Former Hillside High students mass communication junior James Hines and music industry freshman Tiffany Agerston.
(Photo: Carlton Koonce/Echo Staff Photographer)
The family relationship between N.C. Central University and Hillside High School goes back to the days when the two schools were known respectively as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, and James A. Whitted High School.
Whitted, a former principal of Hillside, established the school in 1887.
In 1909, James Shepard established what is known today as NCCU.
Since then, both schools have been working to improve both city and each other.
NCCU students and faculty work with Hillside students through mentoring programs and other projects designed to help students achieve.
Perhaps the most enduring bond has been formed through the performing arts.
Right now, 12 Hillside graduates are in NCCU’s band program and two are in the theatre program.
“We share a number of students who choose to be in the band, as well as on the stage,” said Karen Dacons-Brock, associate professor of theatre at NCCU.
Dacons-Brock said that NCCU thrives on the cooperative relationship between the arts programs of the two schools.
“Both programs allow some flexibility when schedules overlap,” she said.
“Students who have participated in both programs appear to be satisfied with both.”
Xavier Cason, director of bands at Hillside, is a 1984 NCCU alumnus. He was a drum major during his senior year, earning a B.A. in music education.
Cason was band director at NCCU for eight years, before he went to Hillside in 1997.
“Hillside and Central borrow a lot from each other, as well as Hornets who become Eagles, which I am happy to see,” said Cason.
Another NCCU graduate, Wendell Tabb, is director of theatre at Hillside.
Tabb said his students also benefit from the connection between NCCU and Hillside.
“Many of our high school students are given opportunities to perform on the NCCU stage, and many of the NCCU students work with our students in theatre management, lighting, and set building and designs,” said Tabb.
Tiffany Agerston, theatre education freshman and a 2008 Hillside graduate, performed in numerous plays throughout her four years there.
She performed in her first college play, “Home,” in October.
Agerston said her Hillside credentials have helped her form bonds at NCCU.
“I notice when people ask me where I went to high school and I respond with Hillside, they say they know what I’m talking about,” she said.
Tabb said he’s glad to have a fellow Hillside grad on board.
“Tiffany is an amazing performer,” Tabb said.
“If she applies the training she received at Hillside with the knowledge and training she will receive from the NCCU theatre faculty, I am sure she will continue to grow as a professional artist.”
Roy Ector, drum junior and a 2006 Hillside graduate, was a drum major during his senior year at Hillside.
“I feel blessed and proud,” Ector said.
“Being a drum major at Hillside High was like a dream to me.
“So when I was appointed to that position, it was an honor because of the legacy and tradition that it has.”
However, Ector said that the band also can pose challenges.
“You have to eat and sleep band 24 hours, seven days a week, and it’s going to be hard at times, but it pays off,” he said.
Cason said he is happy when he hears that one of his students has decided to go to NCCU.
“It’s good to see someone take the path that I took, and I hope that I have influenced them in the same way,” said Cason.
Tabb echoed those sentiments.
“When my drama students decide to attend NCCU, that really touches my heart,” he said.