Community Buildings and Places – Education

By Surrahwall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Our area of NC is called the Triangle. The cities that make the points of the Triangle are Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The Triangle also includes smaller cities and towns in the area – Cary, Morrisville, Apex, etc. This area – the Triangle – is one of the most highly educated areas of the country. Both the Raleigh/Cary and Durham/Chapel Hill areas are in the top 10 most educated cities in the nation. It’s easy to see why. We have many colleges and universities. Chapel Hill has the University of North Carolina. Durham has Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and Durham Technical Community College. And Raleigh has NC State University, William Peace University, Meredith College, Shaw University, Saint Augustine’s University, and Wake Technical Community College.

Wake County also has 171 public schools, 78 private schools, hundreds of preschools, and 20 public libraries! (Click here to find your nearest library and learn how to get a library card.)

All children in North Carolina are required by law to attend school until they are 16 years old. Let’s look at the different kinds of schools we have.

Elementary Schools

By woodleywonderworks ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Elementary schools usually include Kindergarten and 1st-5th grade (some include 6th grade). Children usually begin Kindergarten when they are 5 years old. Most American children begin school in Kindergarten. They do not usually start with 1st grade. When children finish elementary school, they are around 11-12 years old. In elementary school, children have one teacher for all their academic subjects (math, writing, reading, social studies, geography, science, and history), and they have different teachers for music, art, P.E. (physical education), and foreign languages. They stay with their class (about 20-30 students) all day. They play together, eat lunch together, and go to art, music, and other classes together. In each grade, children will have a different teacher and be in a different class (with a different group of students). In the lower grades (Kindergarted-3rd grade), there is often a teacher’s assistant in the classroom.

Middle Schools

By Jeff Billings [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Middle schools usually include 6th-8th grade (some are 7th-9th grade). These schools are sometimes called junior high schools. Children begin middle school when they have finished elementary school, usually around 11-12 years of age. In middle school, children have different teachers for different subjects. They have a math teacher, a history teacher, a P.E. teacher, etc., and they can begin to choose their classes based on their interests. For example, students are not required to take a music class, but if they are interested in music, they can choose to take a chorus (singing) class or a band class. Middle school students go to a different classroom for each class, and they may have different students in each one.

High Schools

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

American high schools usually include 9th-12th grade (some are 10th-12th). Children begin high school (sometimes called senior high school) when they have finished middle school (or junior high school). High school is similar to middle school. Students change teachers and classrooms for each subject, and they can choose some classes based on their interests. For example, they are required to study a foreign language, but they can choose which language to study. They can also choose to take some classes that are designed to prepare them for college and some classes that can help them get college credit while they are still in high school. When we talk about a high school student’s “class,” we might mean an individual course (a history class), or we might mean all of the students in the same grade. I graduated from high school in 1998. All of the students who graduated that year are called the class of 1998.

Public vs. Private

All public schools (elementary, middle, and high schools) in the United States are free for students to attend. It does not matter if they are American citizens or not, and they are not required to take an admissions exam. Private schools, however, require tuition (money paid for education), and they can require students to interview and take admissions tests. The things that students learn in public schools are regulated by the government, but private schools have more freedom to teach what they want. For example, public schools do not teach classes based on one religion, but private schools can teach religious classes. Also, children in NC public schools do not usually wear uniforms, but children in private schools often do.


Some parents choose to teach their own children at home rather than sending them to a public or private school. These parents homeschool their children. In NC, parents need to:

  • tell the NC Division of Non-Public Education that they will homeschool their child(ren)
  • give their school a name
  • have at least a high school diploma
  • keep attendance records
  • operate on a regular schedule for at least 9 months of the year
  • keep records of the children’s immunizations
  • give a nationally standardized test each year

A homeschool cannot teach children from more than two families. However, many families who homeschool their children get together once a week so their children can socialize, give presentations, and work on group projects.

Your Turn

Discuss these questions with your classmates:

  1. How does education in the United States compare to education in your country? How is it similar/different?
  2. What do you think about NC’s law that children must attend school until the age of 16? Do you think they should be required to graduate from high school? Do you think they should be allowed to drop out of (quit) school before 16?
  3. Why do you think some parents choose to homeschool their children?
  4. Do you think homeschooling is a good idea?
  5. Do you think NC’s requirements for homeschooling are enough? Should parents be required to have more than a high school education?