In Ohio, there are programs to meet a wide range of educational needs, learning styles and interests. Here, we highlight three private high schools that have put their own spin on what constitutes a school day, and how they’re helping their students to shine in the process.
The nondescript brick building in a modest neighborhood on Columbus’s north side seems an unlikely setting for the pioneering curriculum at Marburn Academy. Founded in 1981 for students in first through 12th grades whose learning differences inhibit their success in mainstream schools, Marburn is the only private high school in Ohio exclusively for college-bound students with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and/or dyslexia.
“Everybody here has the capacity to graduate from high school and college,” says Ruth Rubin, who teaches social sciences to Marburn’s 36 high-school-age students. “But [before they came here] they didn’t know it. Something got in the way.”
For junior Rachel Creek, a recent transfer to Marburn, that “something” was the snowball effect of difficulty in the classroom and low self-esteem. “The teachers weren’t teaching the way I needed to learn,” she says. “I was frustrated and down on myself. I thought it was my fault.”
Earl Oremus, Marburn’s headmaster, explains that in a mainstream setting, learning differences are often accommodated with a short-term fix. “In a conventional school, a student with dyslexia might be given a recording of an assigned book,” he says. “Here, we teach them to read it.” Homework is another example of how the school modifies the mainstream experience. “We give homework,” Oremus says, “but they do it here. It’s independent work, but in a supportive environment.”
Mindy Bixel, Marburn’s high school coordinator, says the ability to work independently and other self-management skills can be the biggest obstacles for kids with ADHD. For that reason, there’s the “student skills” class, where kids learn to tailor
everything from basic note taking and research skills to strategies for taking college entrance
exams to their own learning style. “Students work on self-awareness skills, not only to improve how they function in a classroom now, but to help them become a self advocate in the college setting and beyond,” she says.
Creek has her sights on The Ohio State University, where she wants to study veterinary medicine. And if she follows in past students’ footprints of 100 percent high school graduation and college acceptance, she’ll do just that. She’ll also be able to get a jump on college credits, thanks to a new dual-enrollment partnership between Marburn and Ohio Dominican University that will let students simultaneously fulfill their high school graduation requirements and earn college credit.
It’s another way Marburn is transforming the lives of this often-underserved group of students and their parents. During the past decade, the school has worked hard to extend its outreach into the community. Oremus says about 50,000 students in central Ohio alone struggle with some form of a learning difference; for this reason, Marburn hosts workshops for parents of nonstudents and offers in-service training workshops for teachers.
“In 10 years, we’ve served about 20,000 people,” says Bixel. “We want to continue to be a resource for the community and a catalyst for change.”
St. Martin de Porres,
A report issued last year by America’s Promise Alliance pegged Cleveland’s high school graduation rate as one of the worst in the country. All the more reason to rethink how
inner-city schools think about education, says Keith Laschinger, director of marketing for St. Martin de Porres High School in the city’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.
“We’re part of a national network of 24 Catholic schools nationwide that focuses on students in urban centers,” he says. The school draws its 388 students from Cleveland’s 19 public school wards and several inner-ring suburbs, and while its mission is similar to other private college-prep high schools, its admissions criteria are not.
“The number one factor is money,” says Tom Bennett, executive vice president of the school’s corporate work-study program. “If you can afford private school tuition, you can’t come here.” Bennett says St. Martin’s average household income is $29,000 for a family of four. To offset costs, students participate in the school’s innovative work-study program, which forges partnerships with area businesses to provide real-world experience as well as tuition assistance.
Participating companies pay $25,000 for one full-time office job, which supports a team of four
students. St. Martin handles all employment issues such as workers’ compensation and tax withholding as well as training. “Students go through freshman transition week, which is three days of ‘what we expect from you,’” explains Bennett. After that, they complete 45 hours of job training that covers basic office skills and professional behavior.
St. Martin senior Ariel Powell has worked in the legal department at Cleveland’s Parker-Hannifin Corporation since enrolling at St. Martin her freshman year. While Powell says she has enjoyed the work and learned valuable skills about working with others, Joe Pophal, an attorney for the company, says her account of her accomplishments is modest at best. “She’s unbelievable,” he says, explaining how coworkers trust Powell with sensitive legal documents, then interrupting himself to ask if she talked about her internship last summer at Brown University.
In the company’s six-year relationship with the school, Pophal says he and his colleagues have become invested not only in Powell’s and other students’ job performance, but also their lives. “Four of us just drove to Buffalo to watch [a former student’s] basketball game,” he says. “We’ve had these kids over for dinner — they really become part of our family. I’d be kidding myself if I said we didn’t learn as much from them as they hopefully do from us.”
Pophal says the relationship also makes good business sense; even with furloughs and hiring freezes, Parker-Hannifin created a summer position for Powell, independent of her school program. Apparently, other businesses see the same value. “We added 22 full-time positions with sponsors between January 2009 and January 2010,” says Bennett.
Bennett says the goal is to have every student graduate from college. Eighty percent of St. Martin’s students are the first generation in their family to attend college, and many go home to neighborhoods struggling with gang violence and drugs. To date, the school boasts a 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent college acceptance rate. “Over the past two years, our students have earned nearly $3 million in scholarships at schools such as Spellman, Morehouse and Oberlin College,” says Bennett.
Olney Friends School,
It’s a stereotype, albeit a somewhat justified one, to associate high school kids with fast food, too much TV and a stubborn unwillingness to clean up after themselves, let alone others. So given that garden chores, limited television privileges and scrubbing everything from the daily dishes to the bathrooms are non-negotiable aspects of student life at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, you have to assume that the 56 kids that make up the student body here are a pretty remarkable group.
The school was founded in 1837 by the Ohio Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a group of Quakers who migrated here from the South over opposition to slavery. The 350-acre rural campus includes a main building, boys’ and girls’ dormitories and a farm and community garden that supplies the cafeteria with meat and produce. “We teach students to be critical thinkers and other skills they need for college, but before they graduate, they have also dug in the dirt, trimmed goats’ hooves and assisted with the local water quality,” says Kirsten Bohl, the school’s publicist.
Although Olney Friends has Quaker roots and adheres to basic principles of Quaker tradition, being Quaker is not part of the admissions criteria. Daniel Lowe, a freshman from Covington, Kentucky, says although he’s not Quaker, he admires the principles of the religion, and enjoys the one-on-one attention from teachers. “It’s much easier to advocate for yourself here than in a big school,” he says. Limited television time isn’t an issue for Lowe either. “It doesn’t bother me much, mainly because they keep us so busy,” he says. “We have lots of homework, and when you’re done, you want to keep your mind sharp, so I just want to grab a book.”
Days at Olney Friends are full. After breakfast, students head to morning collection, which Dan Chen, a junior from Wuhu, China, describes as 15 minutes of quiet reflection and centering that help her to prepare for the day. After classes, students take part in sports, dinner, study hall and an evening collection before heading back to their dorms.
Moo-Seok Cho, a senior exchange student from South Korea, lived with an area family and was a day student at Olney, but decided that he was missing out on too much of the student experience by leaving each night. “I didn’t want to miss the activity,” he says. “I felt left out.” Cho says the diversity (students come from 16 different states and 10 different countries) and the individualized attention are what made Olney Friends right for him. “And digging in a garden — I’d definitely never done that before,” he laughs.