Two years in, Marysville STEM Early College High School has brought an abandoned building back to its roots. Originally a high school, the building was constructed in 1960 and later used as a middle school. More recently, the building sat vacant for five years before being converted back to its original purpose.
It would be difficult to tell. The facilities offer a striking interpretation of futuristic education, resembling more of a small college than a high school. Hallways stretch wide across the campus, connecting glass classrooms to state of the art machinery standing at attention, eager for an estimated 420 students by in the coming fall.
None of this would exist without the sizeable grant the district was awarded in 2013. Marysville received a hefty sum of $12.4 million from the Ohio Department of Education’s Straight A Fund to help launch creative new ideas in education, establishing the early college model in the community.
“The bulk of the money went into renovating,” says Principal Kathy McKinnis, formerly a principal at Bunsold Middle School.
But Marysville STEM Early College High School’s facilities boast more than pleasing aesthetics; they’re intentionally rooted in teaching philosophy.
Each hallway boasts myriad study spots, cozy furniture and tables for independent study or group work. Students are invited to take ownership of the space while working on their online college courses, or even for classroom group work. The thoughtful architecture implicitly promotes the school’s stated habits of mind: flexibility, outside-the-box thinking, resilience, self-sufficiency, and collaboration. McKinnis believes that emphasizing the students’ independence prepares students for the years beyond high school, be that in college or the workforce.
“There’s hardly a time when you walk through that kids aren’t out collaborating in the open spaces,” observes McKinnis. Everywhere I walk, there are students in groups of three or four typing on their laptops, finishing up the school year. “If you say to kids, ‘We expect you to behave…’ our expectation is that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do.” Principal McKinnis believes that the current students overwhelmingly rise to the occasion.
By giving students space to direct their own study, she’s allowed a cohort to develop immense personal pride in their work. Founding students Danielle George, Hannah Fluharty, Keely Mankins, and Addy Miller-Brown don’t shy away from their accomplishments as a class.
“I think our class built a culture here. So I think when we leave, a lot of people are worrying about how the culture’s gonna change.”
What kind of culture?
“We’re all just like really weird and nerdy.” Laughing with the rest, she adds, “and we’re all really close.”
Their actions speak louder; they huddle together at a single table, each working independently, supporting each other when needed.
The other tables wait patiently for the coming fall.
To learn more about Marysville STEM Early College High School, visit their website.
Interview and tour took place on Monday, May 16th, 2016.