The students, who kicked off their middle school careers on Valdosta State University's campus, will pursue academics in the facility that once housed S.L. Mason Elementary School.
The sign in front of the building reads, "Valdosta Early College Academy," and down the hall where the classrooms are located, lockers prove that this is no longer a place for elementary-aged students.
Principal Ingrid Hall welcomed the students to the new facility recently.
"When people talk about VECA, this is what they will talk about," Hall said.
The sixth-graders, the newest crop of VECA students, will spend their first year of study at VSU's Dewar College of Education. They will see their elder schoolmates during lunch and physical education when they are shuttled to the VECA campus, Hall said.
Items for the school, including SMART boards, computers, desks and chairs, were provided through a combination of assistance from the Valdosta City School System, VSU, the local business community and funds from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, said Dr. Brian Gerber, director of curriculum, research and technology outreach at VSU.
Though the elder VECA students have moved away from the university, they will retain a close relationship with its staff and students.
Several Valdosta State classes will be held at the academy, Gerber said.
"Part of the philosophy of VECA is there is a strong interaction between these middle school students and our college students and faculty," Gerber said. "They were here in the College of Education, which built a strong connection to education majors in the classroom, our faculty is visible all the time and we didn't want to lose that connection. We want these students to see that college is their ultimate goal through this partnership."
Devontae Leary, 13, understands that philosophy completely. He is in the inaugural VECA class, one of the first students to take classes at VSU, and a student that will be a member of VECA's first graduating class in a few short years.
"It's just another way to be able to go to college," Leary said. "I have an early start. A lot of kids now have an opportunity of a lifetime."
Seventh grader Elizabeth Elkins, 12, said it was a privilege to be a part of VECA.
She likes the fact that the sixth-graders get to spend their first year on VSU's campus so they get a taste of what college academics will be like, she said.
The Valdosta Early College Academy, a partnership between the university and the city school system, is a way to help students that may not succeed in a traditional classroom setting to be prepared for college by their 11th grade year.
Each year the Valdosta Early College Academy welcomes two classes of 18 sixth graders to the school. By the beginning of their 11th grade year, students will have the option of dual enrolling at VSU and could earn up to 60 hours of college credit courses before graduating high school.