Dedicated individuals and organizations drove local education success in 2015

Dedicated individuals and organizations collaborated to invest their hearts, souls, time and generosity to improve the region’s education efforts in 2015. Success was measured in many ways, from better food and new parenting classes to focused STEM mentoring and innovative work/study programs.

I wrote a series of feature stories throughout 2015 highlighting creative people in Greater Cincinnati working to improve student outcomes and prepare our youth for what lies ahead. Here’s a recap of that education coverage, complete with updates and a look at the promise in 2016 for continued creativity, commitment and accomplishment.

Rothenberg Academy Rooftop Garden
Flowers, fruits and vegetables aren’t the only things growing in Rothenberg Academy’s rooftop garden, as community impact continues to blossom throughout Over-the-Rhine. Students impart their knowledge on neighbors, family and friends as they learn, practice and share tactics for sustainability — seed saving, for example.
The school’s Parent Center is becoming even more involved, as parents, teachers and students join together to partake in meal preparation and sharing. Fried green tomatoes and their latest delicacy, chicken with Israeli couscous and kale, carrot and potato latkes, are just some of the items they’ve enjoyed together.
The garden’s reach has extended far beyond the school at this point, as Mayor John Cranley proclaimed Nov. 18 “Love for Nature Day” in recognition of Rothenberg students’ “workmanship” and “enthusiasm,” serving as what he called an “inspiration” to the city.

St. Peter Claver Latin School for Boys 
The tight-knit familial community that composed St. Peter Latin School for Boys was forced to disband when the facility closed its doors in May. Finances were strained as the charter school could rely only on private donations for support — with nearly every student on scholarship, it became a burden too heavy to bear. Most students and some staff members (like Nancy Tunnat and Ann-Marie Maly, whom we interviewed last school year) relocated to St. Joseph School in the West End.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Though St. Peter can’t operate as a stand-alone school any longer, a commitment to providing Latin instruction continues via an after-school program that can be supported by donating online.

Procter & Gamble’s Resident Scholar Program 
Like St. Peter Claver, P&G’s Resident Scholar Program (RSP) has undergone changes after its founder and program director of 11 years, Andrea Bowens-Jones, relocated to Atlanta.
“It was sad but an exciting transition to the next chapter of my life,” says Bowens-Jones, who launched her own company, IDG Vision Consulting & Training, in August. Its mission is “to inspire, develop and grow the vision inside people to enable them to become the highest expression of themselves,” she says. 
Though Bowens-Jones is no longer with P&G, she still plans to continue what she started with the RSP, in which the ultimate goal is to inspire African-American students to engage in careers related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“It is my vision to expand the RSP effort through our (IDG Vision Consulting & Training) Corporate Affiliate Program,” she says. “This is my passion.”
Meanwhile, the local RSP is under new leadership, with recruiting to begin in early 2016. The program continues to provide alumni like Kirsten Simpson with knowledge, experience and confidence when it comes to pursuing careers in STEM.
Simpson spoke of her RSP experience in May just prior to beginning her summer-long apprenticeship through P&G’s Careers in Business Initiative (CIBI). She’s since been called back for a second summer of professional development, which she’ll begin after completing her freshman year at the University of Dayton, which has so far been “challenging but very rewarding,” she says.
“I have been able to successfully and appropriately handle my academics, professional connections, Christian life, social life, school leadership involvement, extra-curricular activities and still maintain a high grade point average while carrying 18 credit hours,” Simpson says. “I give some recognition to the RSP and CIBI programs for being able to personally and professionally master this ‘juggling act.’”

Beech Acres Parenting Center 

Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning granted Beech Acres Parenting Center — just one of 10 organizations to receive funding nationwide — $175,000 to implement programming aimed at a multi-generational solution to educational challenges. The Center worked with both children and their parents/guardians at two sites — Hays Porter Elementary School and the Academy of World Languages — to foster knowledge and the desire to learn together.
Based on 2014-15 study results, as discovered by a Penn State University evaluation of the 10 Toyota Family Learning sites, “parents and children spent 17,487 hours learning together, 1,573 of which was spent doing community service,” while 90 percent of parents said they became more engaged in their children’s education, 96 percent said they became a better teacher to their child, 75 percent increased their English language skills, 34 percent were able to attain better paying jobs and all said literacy activity increased in the home.

Speed Mentoring at Hughes
The United Way and its Herbert R. Brown Society, Partners for a Competitive Workforce, the University of Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati Stem Collaborative and Cincinnati Public Schools collaborated on a successful first-round of mentorship for Hughes STEM High School juniors last spring. Students, now seniors, met again with mentors this fall.
“Our idea is always to implement it and then let it become part of the system so we don’t have to keep dipping back in,” says Sean Kelley, director of the Talent Pipeline Initiative at Partners for a Competitive Workforce. “Now it’s on their calendar.”
The initiative is also slated to expand to Woodward Career Technical High School this year via a “career cafe.”  
“With My Tomorrow*ed (at Cincinnati Public Schools), the goal is for students to have one career-based learning opportunity each semester,” Kelley says. “So we’re guaranteeing that every kid has some exposures to professionals in the community — most importantly — who look like them, which is why the Herbert R. Brown Society’s involvement is such a big piece.”

King Academy Community School 
Andrea Martinez, teaching administrator at King Academy Community School, continues to go above and beyond when it comes to seeking out opportunities for her students. The school’s partnership with Cincinnati State is slated to return in 2016, this time with a focus on physical science.
“You want to get a kid’s attention in science — that’s the hook, line and sinker,” Martinez says. “After building hovercrafts, I mean, that’s all they want to do.”
It’s these sorts of interactive learning components that Martinez ensures are available to her kids. Cincinnati Parks naturalists bring programming like Nature Next Door to the school on a bi-monthly basis, so students have an opportunity to learn about science in the environment surrounding their school.
“They have a lot of artifacts and resources — they bring things to life for my kids,” Martinez says. “When it’s nice outside, we meet at a park in the local area. They absolutely love it.”
When students are presented with unique learning opportunities for engagement, they excel — evidenced by five students’ recent success in passing bills at the Ohio Statehouse in November. Accompanied by their social studies teacher, Donna Foster, the students traveled to Columbus with the Ohio YMCA Youth in Government program, where they presented their bills — advocating for more African American literature in the curriculum and a discontinuation of school uniforms — to a legislative body of their peers.
“The most important thing to me that we learned from the whole experience is, if your bill doesn’t pass, you shouldn’t give up and should just keep trying,” says Nevaeh Pickens, a sixth grade student.
Other key takeaways included proper articulation, lobbying for a position (seventh-grader De’Aira Ferris put up a solid run for governor) and an understanding of the "numbers game" when it comes to running for office and gaining support from one’s peers. Plans to return — with more students and new ideas for successful bills — are already underway, as a new tradition has begun.

Louder Than a Bomb
WordUP’s Lacy “Asylum” Robinson wrote and delivered poetry that brought the crowd to its feet at Louder Than A Bomb Cincy finals last spring.

More students like Robinson, who won the 2015 competition, will gain confidence and be provided a creative outlet for expression this year, as the WordUP program extends beyond Aiken New Tech High School to also reach students at Hughes STEM High School. The weekly program is made possible through a collaborative effort among WordPlay, Hughes and UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services.

Students will again compete at the Louder Than A Bomb Cincy Finals on April 9.

DePaul Cristo Rey 
DePaul Cristo Rey, which reached a milestone achievement with its first graduating class this past summer, continues to assemble recognition as the school was named one of the 41 Most Innovative K-12 Schools in America by Noodle, an educational information and resource website created by John Katzman, founder of The Princeton Review.
We checked in with recent graduates Jabril Bryant and Katie Stanton, both of whom spoke with us last spring. Here’s what they had to offer in terms of advice and lessons learned after embarking on life after high school.
“After high school, there's a sense of nostalgia coming back to your old roots, looking back at what you've accomplished and witnessing how far you've come,” says Bryant, who just completed his fall semester at Ohio University, where he plans to major in screenwriting and film producing.
During his time at DPCR, he gained experience in the field through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program, specifically through work with WCPO Channel 9.
While he is currently completing his general education requirements, he’s also being proactive, making sure he’s done his part to gain the experience needed to excel in his future major.
“I took it upon myself to create two videos featuring a nonprofit organization and the risks of drugs at Ohio University since my departure from DPCR,” Bryant says. “I am more than proud to have worked on these projects as they've given me an idea of what it's like to film projects.”
Stanton, who planned to attend Morehead State University this semester, ran into unforeseen financial difficulties that she says presented a learning opportunity in themselves. Though life presents its fair share of obstacles, her determination and support systems are too strong to allow economic issues to stand in the way of her future success.
“The last few months, Mrs. Smith, DePaul's guidance counselor, and Mrs. Held, DePaul's alumni coordinator, have helped guide me toward contacting a temp service to find a job,” Stanton says. “I can truly say DPCR helped me get ready for the next steps in my life, not only by the education I received but because of the work study program. I've found myself thankful for it on numerous occasions, and it has helped me immensely in my search for a job.”
With the help of DPCR staff and guidance from her mother, Stanton is enrolled at Northern Kentucky University, where she will complete her first semester of classes in the spring. 

Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a freelance writer, adjunct English composition instructor and server at Orchids at Palm Court. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.
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