STEPHEN H. COWLES/STAFF WRITER
The Tidewater News
Three area high school seniors will be rewarded for their extra attention to academics when they graduate tonight from Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin. During the commencement ceremony, Armirah Stephens of Franklin High School, Samantha Billups and Benjamin Cutchins, both of Southampton High School, will be recognized for their achievements as dual enrollment students.
By participating in the program, they earn credits from both their respective high school as well as the college.
The seniors spoke recently about their experience.
“My parents, they love it. This cuts off two years of college,” Stephens said. “I’ll be able to go ahead and get started on master’s program early. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college.
She is the daughter of Valerie Willis and Roger Stephens, and sister of Kumasi Matin, her brother, and four older sisters, Tunisia Stephens, Chiquita Stephens, Ruggayyah Matin and Rajeeyah Matin.
At PDCCC tonight, Stephens will graduate with honors with an associate’s degree in general studies and a certificate in general education from the college. Already certified as nurse’s aide, the 18-year-old had until recently worked part-time at Nansemond Pointe. She want to major in biology at Spelman, and the long-range goal is to become an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s definitely been a journey and a very good one,” Stephens said about being the intensive academic program. “When I was visiting at Spelman College, I noticed a teaching style similar to PDCCC, and I feel dual enrollment has prepared me for college and real life. It won’t be such a surprise…I won’t be shocked.”
As if textbooks weren’t enough, the 18-year-old has also been active in extracurricular school activities at Franklin High School as well as her church, First Baptist. There’s been the marching band, student ambassador to city council, the Student Government Association, Delta Gems, Alpha Kappa Alpha debutante queen, 21st Century Ladies of Distinction, a Mime Ministry leader and children’s church teacher, to name a few.
Two people get credit for helping Stephens get through it all.
“Jennelle Riddick gave me a crash course on time management — eat, sleep, free time. Alexa Harris — Spelman alumna, family friend and mentor — helped me learn how to take a break and balance everything to have a social life, but also keep up my grades as well.”
Two other factors have guided Stephens.
“My ambition comes from my faith and nieces, to be a good example. I want them to see that you don’t have to dribble a ball, sing or be a famous rapper to be successful,” she said.
After graduation, Stephens wants to get a job at a Boys and Girls Club and relax before heading off to college.
Billups, 18, said she’ll attend Hollins University to major in business, and wants to broaden her horizons by studying abroad as well. She’s not yet decided on a major, though.
“I want to find what fits me,” she said.
The daughter of Leisa and Douglas Billups of Zuni, she has a sister. Jenna Billups, who is a sophomore at Southampton High School.
Billups will graduate with honors with an associate’s degree in general studies and a certificate in general education from the college. She has earned a 4.73 GPA at Southampton High and a 3.9 at PDCCC, according to Wendy Harrison, communications specialist at PDCCC. Billups is also No. 2 in a class of 167 and has successfully completed the requirements for an advanced diploma at Southampton High.
A member of the National Honor Society, FFA, Varsity Club, and Christian Club, she serves as president of the Beta Club, according to Harrison. Billups is past captain of the Junior Varsity Volleyball team and serves as captain of the Varsity Volleyball team, which was Southside District Champions in 2011 and 2012. She earned 2012 2nd Team All-District and 2012 Assist Leader. She also serves as captain of the Blackwater Volleyball Club and participated in the Ivor Softball Association’s Southampton/Sussex Girls Fast Pitch All-Stars Team.
She volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and Franklin Cooperative Ministry. She is a member of the Eucharistic Ministry Team, St. Jude Catholic Church Adult Choir and secretary of the church’s Youth Group. She also has served as pre-school and kindergarten Sunday school teacher and secretary of the Youth Group. In addition, she tutors math, specializing in algebra.
It was at the school when she heard from classmates about the dual enrollment, and got interested.
“I would say it has definitely helped prepare for the future,” she said about being in the program “It’s beneficial to my family in saving money in long run.”
No less important, “I manage my time better. I’ve learned to be more flexible and be more responsible,” added Billups.
There will be a little graduation party after tonight’s ceremony, then it’s back to high school on Monday.
Though she didn’t define her plans after graduation, Billups only knows it won’t be a lazy time.
“I have a busy summer,” she said. “I can’t function without being busy.”
The incentive for the Southampton High senior to sign up for dual enrollment was simple: “I wanted to decrease time and costs. I want to go into the medical field and there’s a lot of schooling.”
The 18-year-old has set quite an ambition for himself: cardiologist.
“Heart disease is the number one killer in America,” said Cutchins, who added that he’s also been studying anatomy and physiology. “I’ve done research and want to make sure it’s what I want to do.”
Cutchins said that if a career in medicine doesn’t work out, then he’d look to become a physical trainer.
“I keep a good level of physical fitness,” he said. Wrestling, track, cross country and martial arts are some examples that Harrison cited.
The son of Cathy and Ben Cutchins of Newsoms will graduate with honors with an associate degree in general studies and a certificate in general education from PDCCC. She works at the college and urged her son to enroll.
He in turn encourages other students to consider joining.
“The dual enrollment program is just a great program for just about any high school student. People are more capable than they realize,” said Cutchins. “It’s a doable program.”
There’s a different level of learning, he added, and more responsibility on students when they’re in dual enrollment classes.
Learning hasn’t been limited to just the school year. For the past two summers, Cutchins took classes in art, music, speech and health rather than laze about.
“I just do,” he said by way of explanation. “I guess personal growth.”
Higher education will be either at Virginia Military Institute or James Madison University.
“They just have a higher level of education, and give students a good set of values to live with,” said Cutchins about VMI, adding that joining the Air Force is a possibility for him.
Joel Bradshaw, a retired colonel, served as a mentor as well as instructing in calculus at the college.
“He’s really a great teacher,” said Cutchins. “He emphasized understanding rather than just memorization.”