By Elizabeth Goussetis
Imagine yourself in 8th grade, getting ready to move on up to high school. What circumstances might convince you to leave all your friends and go to a different high school?
That’s what Justin Henry will likely do next year and he’s not totally thrilled about it. But that’s the choice all 8th graders in Reynoldsburg are making as they apply to one of Reynoldsburg High School’s four subject-focused academies.
Although many of his friends will be attending the creative arts-focused ENCORE academy on the Summit campus, Henry’s top choice is the BELL academy, which is on the Livingston campus. He’s interested in business and likes the idea of earning college credits in high school.
It can be an overwhelming decision, with talk of college credits and majors, along with factors like where their older siblings go, which campus they’ll be on, and what their parents want them to do.
“I’m trying to get him to understand you can’t go with your friends,” said Justin’s mom, Anne Marie Henry.
She and her son attended an open house event at his school, Waggoner Road Junior High, to hear presentations about each of the academies, and were impressed with the BELL presentation and principal Erica Dodson.
Justin said students tend to look down on BELL because it’s on the older Livingston campus.
“I think a lot more people would go there if they moved it (to the Summit campus),” he said.
BELL stands for business, education, leadership and law, but according to Tyler Lovelace, a junior who chose the academy because of his desire to be a police officer, none of the pathways in the BELL curriculum are carved in stone – students can switch if their interests change. That’s true, at varying degrees, for all academies. But students often choose BELL for a different reason: it offers the most opportunities to earn college credit in high school.
“Even if you’re not interested in any of the letters BELL stands for, it’s not a bad idea to go and get all your general ed college credits out of the way,” said Julie Flis, who graduated last year and shaved a year off of her college education, not to mention the money she saved. She will finish an associate’s degree at Columbus State and then transfer to Miami University to earn an education degree. She and Lovelace were part of a panel of students who spoke to parents at the event about their experiences at BELL.
Diana Herrick’s daughter, an 8th grader at Waggoner Road Junior High who loves dance, photography, cheerleading and has a habit of redesigning the rooms in their home, has her heart set on the ENCORE academy. Her older daughter chose a different track.
“She’s in STEM, but they’re totally different, she’s like, give me a pile of parts and I’ll build something,” Herrick said. “Both of them came to the decision pretty easily. When my older daughter chose STEM there was no doubt.”
Herrick said they talked about the choice at home, but she ultimately left it up to them.
“It’s kind of a lot, I think, for an 8th grader, but then again I went to high school so long ago, it’s so different now,” said Herrick.
“I think the academies overall have improved student engagement,” said Maureen Gorsuch, assistant principal at ENCORE. “I would advise a kid or parent to pick their passion because they’re going to be more successful doing something they enjoy.”
Students turned in an application that ranks their top choices. Justin Henry said he will probably choose ENCORE as a second choice. His mom, who attended a liberal arts college, is okay with that.
“I’m all about the well-roundedness and go from there,” she said. “Having this has been very informative, and makes me feel a lot better.”