Metro High School a model for the future

 
 Messenger photos by John Matuszak

Nathan Richardson, a Metro High School student from Reynoldsburg, is taking part in an internship at the Ohio State University greenhouse, one of the many unique opportunities available through the program that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math. The magnet school is in its second year on the campus of Ohio State University, teaching students from all over Franklin County.

At Reynoldsburg High School, Nathan Richardson was maintaining a 4.0 grade point average while putting in a minimum of effort.

"I wanted a challenge," he explained of his decision to transfer to Metro High School, a program launched in 2006 to provide students a more rigorous educational experience focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Back at Reynoldsburg High, Richardson would be a sophomore. At the end of the current trimester at Metro, he will have earned 19 high school credits and is considered a senior (or a fourth-year student by their standards) who will be ready for college-level courses.

He has been working on an internship at OSU’s greenhouse, researching plant cell and molecular biology, one of the many opportunities outside of the classroom available to Metro students.

"At Reynoldsburg I wouldn’t have been prepared for that," Richardson said.

With funds for a second high school secured, following the passage of a bond issue, the Reynoldsburg district is discussing establishing such "schools of choice" within its own walls.

Metro High School, developed with the assistance of Dan Hoffman, now Reynoldsburg’s assistant superintendent, could provide a model for the possibilities that open up under such a program.

Open environment

Metro High School isn’t just for gifted students, according to Marcy Raymond, a former Reynoldsburg science teacher and administrator who helped create the program and now serves as principal.

"The only requirement for admission is graduating eighth-grade," Raymond said. "We want kids who are going to work hard. Motivation is probably the biggest factor (for success). We want students who are interested in finding out more about the world. We’re not an elite environment. We’re an open environment."

Metro is not a charter school, either. It is a Franklin County public school, managed by the Educational Council made up of 16 partner school districts, including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, Bexley and Whitehall.

The program was launched with the support of the Battelle Institute and OSU, and donations from the KnowledgeWorks Foundation in Ohio and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and continues with assistance from the local districts.

 
The periodic table of the elements etched into the window of Metro High School’s Karen Holbrook Inquiry Studio announces the center’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

It occupies a specially designed space on the OSU campus on Kenny Road, providing an open and flexible learning environment.

Students who apply to attend Metro go through an interview, "but it’s more them interviewing us than us interviewing them, deciding if this is right for them," Raymond said.

Applicants are selected for admission through a lottery, "literally pulling names out of an envelope."

The partner districts are allotted a certain number of slots based on their size. When all the slots are filled, students are put on a waiting list.

The school opened in August, 2006, with 99 first-year students, and now has about 200 enrolled. It expects to be up to its full capacity of 400 students by fall, 2009.

Limiting the enrollment allows the school to keep its class sizes at around 16.

Faculty is supplemented by tutors from Battelle and graduate students from OSU.

These instructors bring the latest research into the classroom, keeping the studies current and relevant.

"This hasn’t been done often, if at all, in Franklin County," Raymond said.

The four-year course of study is divided into two components.

Core Prep is for first and second-year students, focusing on performance in math, science, social studies and language arts, with an emphasis on math. Students have three, two-hour study periods to allow for in-depth learning.

The key word is mastery, and the performance standard is 90 percent or above to earn the required 18 credits. There are no B’s at Metro.

Students who pick up the material quickly can move on, and those who struggle have more time to get it right, instead of being left behind.

"Time is the variable and performance is the standard," Raymond said. "It’s the opposite of regular schools."

Aimee Kennedy, an English teacher in her first year at Metro, sees a marked difference in how students are taught here.

"I see kids here that, at my old school, I know would be so far behind," Kennedy observed.

Metro is technologically advanced, as well, she pointed out. Classroom are equipped with outlets for laptops, have portable Smart Boards and video screens, and a distance learning lab where one instructor is teaching Chinese to other districts as well as Metro kids.

A Metro teacher attending a conference in Japan was able to communicate with students.

"There he was, half-way around the world, and I was talking to him face-to-face," Richardson said.

 
Lupe Medina, left, whose home school is Beechcroft High School, and Cassie West, from the Southwestern City school district, have been working with the education department at Franklin Park Conservatory, teaching preschoolers about butterflies.
 
Zach Haynes, of Canal Winchester, sorts and catalogues butterflies as part of a research internship at Franklin Park Conservatory, one of the many opportunities open to Metro High students who master their core curriculum courses.

Moving up

Once they master the Core Prep requirements, students move into the College Readiness phase, where they learn outside of the classroom at OSU, Battelle, COSI, the Columbus Museum of Art, The Wexner Center for the Arts and other locations.

Students also earn college credits. Metro is one of only eight Early College high schools in the state.

Students are required to take part in internships for two to four hours a day, for 12 weeks.

At the OSU greenhouse, Richardson is part of a research project to create replicas of plants that no longer exist in Ohio, for an exhibit of the geologic timeline of the state that will be displayed at the Governor’s Mansion next year.

On a recent afternoon, he worked with greenhouse coordinator Joan Leonard weeding carnivorous plants.

Students don’t miss out on extracurricular activities, and have numerous clubs at Metro for everything from soccer to chess to journalism.

Because they remain enrolled in their home schools, the students can also participate in sports. Richardson continues to run cross country and track.

He said that it has been a little difficult to stay in touch with friends, but he feels  he made the right decision.

His career plans include entering Annapolis Naval Academy and joining the SEALS, and then becoming a mechanical engineer and possibly owning a farm.

He feels more prepared by Metro.

"You learn to learn on your own," he said. "Here, you feel like you’re actually covering something."

A young person’s social and emotional well-being is not ignored.

The school emphasizes values of "compassion, courage, responsibility and honor," Raymond offered.

There are no locks on desks or closets for personal belongings. Trust is the byword.

Metro started with two rules: take care of yourself and your own learning; and provide an environment where everybody else can learn.

In situations where additional regulations have become necessary, such as the dress code or the use of cell phones in class, the kids and the parents make the decisions at town meetings. Raymond doesn’t even get a vote.

They call it "STEM-ocracy."

The future

Hoffman, who authored the first grant that provided the seed money for the development of Metro, started with two goals.

"We wanted to start small and stay small," Hoffman explained.

The organizers also wanted it to be an "equal opportunity school."

After working with some 10,000 high school seniors in his career, Hoffman was driven to reverse what he calls "the demise of the senior year" when the final months become "more of a social occasion that an academic endeavor."

Providing opportunities for off-campus studies was a way to keep students motivated.

It fell to Raymond and her staff to retool the ninth grade curriculum, as well, to prepare students whose reading levels ranged from fourth-grade to college.

"They’ve done a marvelous job of catching kids up," Hoffman said.

Numerous studies had also indicated how far behind American students are in math and science, he noted.

Overtures to COSI as a possible location led to connections to Battelle and then Ohio State, who pushed for the focus on STEM.

Hoffman said the project has exceeded his expectations.

It has worked so well that it will be expanding throughout Ohio.

Battelle has secured a $12 million grant from the Gates Foundation to create five schools focused on science across the state. The state has earmarked another $12.5 million for the project, and legislators have pledged $100 million for college scholarships.

The goal is to prepare 100,000 students for the jobs of the future.

Reynoldsburg administrators are discussing with faculty and residents the possibility of creating small "schools of choice" at one of its high school buildings.

These programs would duplicate the personalized attention and focused courses of study that Metro has pioneered.

If Reynoldsburg decided to offer a science and math curriculum, "we would rely on what we’ve learned at Metro," Hoffman said.

Raymond can see the concept working in Reynoldsburg. "I would be thrilled if Reynoldsburg had a program like this."

Information is available at www.themetroschool.org, or by calling 247-2276.

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