Metro High School opens up new worlds

While attending classes in the Southwestern City school district, Cassie West was maintaining a 4.0 grade point average but wasn’t feeling challenged.

"I enjoy moving at a faster pace," West explained of her decision to enroll at Metro  High School, a public school program that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). "At Metro, they raise the bar."

In addition to her classwork, West is among four students undertaking research internships at Franklin Park Conservatory.

West and Lupe Medina, from Columbus, are conducting classes about butterflies for pre-kindergarten children.

Zach Haynes, from Canal Winchester, and Marilyn Rayner, from Westerville, are studying the emergence rate of butterflies to determine the best vendors for the conservatory.

These are some of the unique opportunities available to Metro students.

"If I was at Westland (High School), I wouldn’t be interning here," West said.

Metro High School, developed with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Battelle Institute and the Ohio State University, is proving to be a model for science education across the state.

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, Southwestern City Schools, Groveport and Canal Winchester.

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 60 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 outfitted 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.

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.

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

Dee Ashworth, in charge of exhibits development at the conservatory, has been supervising the Metro interns and has been impressed with how well prepared they are.

The butterfly lab is under the supervision of the  U.S. Department of Agriculture because it contains non-native species, and the students have to be trained like any other staff member, Ashworth said.

The conservatory plans to continue its relationship with Metro "in a big way" by bringing in entire classes, she offered.

At Metro, Haynes and Rayner had courses in statistics and data analysis, as well as biology, to prepare them to conduct research.

Haynes also took a course in entomology at Ohio State.

Metro is one of only eight Early College high schools in the state.

West and Medina  noted that courses in aquatic biology and environmental science prepared them to work at the conservatory.

The STEM curriculum introduces students to subjects they have not studied before.

West entered Metro more interested in science, but found herself intrigued by engineering, becoming the president of the Engineering Club. She is now considering it as a career.

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.

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

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.

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

They call it "STEM-ocracy."

The future

The project 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 STEM across the state.

The state has earmarked another $12.5 million for the project, and legislators have pledged $100 million for college scholarships for STEM students.

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

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