Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.
In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.
The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State. These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.
That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”
The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”
Besides the Asia Society Network, the other four innovative models available to the schools are:
- AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), focused on helping low-income students become college-ready through rigorous courses and support.
- Early College high schools, which allow students to earn college credits even as they attend high school.
- STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) schools supported by the Ohio STEM Learning Network.
- New Tech Network, which stresses technology-enabled collaborative projects.
Early progress at the schools that adopted the models created additional demand from other low-performing schools and 118 now operate one of the models with support from the State. Encouraged by the interest and initial results, the Ohio Legislature has allocated State funding to expand the program.
Aunay is enrolled in the Academy of Global Studies (AGS) at Winton Woods. AGS is working with two different nonprofits to, “enable students to compete in the global society through an education that promotes the 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaborative teamwork, creative problem-solving and communication,” according to its application for the grant.
AGS students must take a rigorous college-preparatory course of study that includes four years each of English, mathematics, science, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, and an interdisciplinary class called Global Studies. They also have the opportunity to participate in internships and travel abroad.
Aunay’s internship was at the National Railroad Freedom Center, a local nonprofit organization that combats human trafficking and modern slavery. The knowledge she gained motivated her to take a deeper look at the problem of children denied an education and required to work in dangerous jobs, sometimes against their will, which was something she first learned about in the Global Studies seminar.
Aunay said collaborating on projects with her fellow students has changed her approach to learning. “Before AGS, I worked more independently,” she said. “Now I can communicate better with others. We have a family environment. We are all together, and we all support each other.
Serving a Diverse School
Like AGS, the International Studies Academy (ISA) at Lincoln West, where Yasmine is a student, is part of the Asia Society network. Yasmine said the mock debates taught her valuable skills in diplomacy. “I’ve learned how to be patient and to speak my mind, but also keep my calm at the same time,” she said. “I’ve learned how to interact with students I don’t know and appreciate their perspectives.” Before the school became part of the network, Model United Nations was only an after-school club. Now it is a required class.
The changes fostered greater teacher collaboration and interdisciplinary assignments. “Teachers are a lot more unified because we all have a common goal,” said Robin Guerrero, international studies coordinator for the ISA. “You know that even the math teacher is touching on global studies.”
Not far away from ISA, Brooklyn Middle School and Brooklyn High School both chose the AVID model to better prepare their graduates for success in college and beyond. AVID provides students with mentoring and tutoring to help them succeed in Advanced Placement and other college-preparatory courses.
In 2012, more than 60 percent of AVID graduates nationwide had taken an Advanced Placement class. In 2010, only 29 percent of Brooklyn High School’s graduates enrolled in a four-year college and nearly three-quarters of students who went to any college had to take remedial classes because they were unprepared, according to Lori Bobincheck, head of professional development and assessment for the Brooklyn schools. Since joining AVID, every junior takes an honors course and visits multiple college campuses. “Kids are more focused on college, they’re looking at their future plans more clearly,” she said.
Executive Director Reed believes similar changes are happening all across the State. “What we have seen so far has been truly transformational in shifting attitudes and expectations among students and adults about who can and cannot go to college, while enhancing in measureable and meaningful ways student access to college and career pathways,” he said.
A list of the schools and their proposals can be found on the Ohio Department of Education Website.