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New Aiken County program challenges students to excel

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) – Many students in Aiken County schools have big dreams.

Andrew Singer wants to be an engineer after school. Brooklyn Turner dreams of becoming a heart surgeon.

"Just do what you have a passion for and work hard at it," Brooklyn told News 12 Wednesday.

Now these bright stars of the future, who may have never crossed paths, are learning under the same roof.

"A lot of people think a gifted student is someone who's going to come in and make straight A's, but they need to be challenged," said Principal Martha Messick, of Aiken Scholars Academy.

The Scholars Academy at USC-Aiken is a unique learning institution. It gives high school students the chance to earn college credit, while also being immersed in a college lifestyle.

"Next semester they'll take three advanced placement courses, so our focus is on the core."

The school isn’t open to just anyone. Messick says the application process is tough. It takes a combination of grades, test scores, references, an essay, and more to get the opportunity to learn in the new environment.

"They're going to have to learn to engage with people just as smart and just as motivated as them."

That's the exact reason why students like Andrew chose to go through the grueling application process.

"Getting college credit, that was a really big deal,” Andrew said. “And if I could finish up two years earlier, that would give me a really big head start on life."

Brooklyn also says the Scholars Academy makes her feel empowered.

"It makes you realize you have the potential to do something better than you are now. And it makes you work harder."

Messick says students are encouraged to get out of their comfort zone.

"People just put smart kids in a box--and think they all look this way or sound this way."

Something she hopes will inspire young minds.

"It's only been a few days of school, and I know I can trust these people to give me what I need."

The academy will continue to add 50 students each year, until it reaches that number of students at each grade level. School officials are also in talks with USC-Aiken to move into a brand new building after next year. It would be repurposed just for their students and staff.

If you, or your child, are interested in joining the school, the application process for next year's freshman class will begin later this fall, most likely by November.

Matt Kaufax