By: Paolo DeMaria
One of the things I love about my job is traveling to different schools around Ohio and seeing education policies in action. On April 4, Gov. John Kasich’s annual State of the State Address was held in Sandusky, Ohio. In events leading up to the address, I visited several northern Ohio schools and got a glimpse of just a few of the outstanding education programs offered in our schools.
One of my first stops was to Tiffin Middle School, where I spoke with students and mentors in the Seneca Mentoring Youth Links program, made possible by a Community Connectors mentoring grant. Students in the program otherwise may not have positive adult role models in their lives. It was encouraging to hear directly from students and mentors about the roles they play in one another’s lives. Particularly notable was the observation that mentors learned and grew almost as much as their student mentees.
I visited a preschool at Bellevue Elementary school. This amazing program earned five stars — the highest rating — in Ohio’s Step Up To Quality rating system. I was impressed with how these students are already developing a sophisticated academic vocabulary. During one activity, they were naming shapes like “sphere,” “cone,” “cylinder,” etc. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing that when I was 4 years old! The district’s investment in its youngest students — many from low-income backgrounds and who may have other special needs — will lay the foundation for future success in school, including giving them a leg up on meeting the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. My visit concluded with a discussion with the students’ families, where they shared with me the powerful impact the program has made in their children’s lives.
At Terra State Community College, President Jerome Webster hosted a great event that highlighted the power of partnerships. I heard from panelists representing businesses, colleges, high schools and education partners. The panelists talked about how the partnerships they formed are meeting the area’s workforce needs and creating hope and opportunity for adult learners. Programs like the Ohio Adult Diploma and College Credit Plus are helping Ohioans, young and old, find paths to better employment or advanced education. College Credit Plus helps students get some college credits while in high school. The program is free and can help students reduce student loan debt and begin their college freshman year ahead of their peers. Earning an Ohio Adult Diploma can be life changing for the 1 million adults in Ohio who do not have high school diplomas. It opens new doors to better jobs and, for many, it offers a pathway out of poverty.
Culinary students at EHOVE Career Center treated me to a fantastic lunch, where school leaders joined me to discuss programs at the career center. We toured the school and experienced 21st century learning as I tried out the school’s fascinating virtual reality model of a human heart. The school exemplifies project-based learning in its Fab Lab. It was phenomenal to see what students were able to create here! The lab lets students identify engineering projects and see them through from concept to design to production using a wide variety of high-tech equipment (laser cutters, 3-D printers, etc.). Students have fabricated everything from engines to a huge version of Ohio’s state seal — all while gaining STEM skills and exploring in-demand jobs. Superintendent Mastroianni is providing great leadership at one of Ohio’s great career centers.
Next, I visited Perkins High School in Sandusky. At an Ohio Business Roundtable discussion, business and community leaders talked about how to develop a skilled workforce that can grow Ohio’s economy. We learned about programs in Perkins Local School District and Sandusky City Schools that are creating partnerships with businesses, as well as opportunities for students to make connections to careers. Students made presentations about how the skills they are developing now will help them in the future. It was inspiring to see students making those career connections early on and taking full advantage of their high school experiences to get ready for the future.
My final visit was to Sandusky High School. Sandusky City Schools received Straight A Funds that they used to create internship opportunities for students. The students are interning at local companies and organizations that are connected to the global economy, such as NASA, PNC Bank and the Ohio Army National Guard. I very much enjoyed talking with students in the program. They have great insight and they tell it like it is — one student asked me about the emerging alternative graduation requirements, wondering what motivation students would have to attend classes and do their best if we make graduation easier. I also enjoyed talking with teachers about the joys and challenges of teaching in high school.
It was really neat to see so many aspects of Ohio’s education system in a single day! My colleagues on the State Board of Education, President Tess Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock, joined me for several events. At every event, we were able to have meaningful, engaging dialogue with educators, students, families and citizens. It was clear to me that we all want the very best for our children. Educational opportunity is critical to advancing individual students and Ohio’s economy as a whole. I genuinely appreciate all of the teachers, administrators and school personnel who work every day in the best interests of our students. I also want to thank all of the schools and districts who hosted these events. There are some truly fabulous things going on in our schools. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much in our conversations.
You can follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff and Board Member Linda Haycock at twitter.com/linda_haycock.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
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