Launched in August 2007 after months of sustained conversations between key partners, Akron’s Early College started with 100 9th graders from Akron Public Schools.

“From the outset, we agreed that grades would not be an impediment for entry,” said Kelly Herold, Assistant to the Dean in the College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Akron. “Instead, 8th graders interested in Akron Early College High School apply. We’re looking for first-generation students to become the core group of each class and want to ensure our Early College students reflect the diversity of our community.”

Supporting all students means constant assessment of the supports in place for students.

“We’ve had great success and we’re proud of the academic achievement of our students,” said Herold. “This comes from reflecting on what’s working and what’s not.”

One adjustment the school has made to help with academic achievement is partnering with the University of Akron to assign a full-time college counselor to work in tandem with the high school counselor. The college counselor simply knows more about the college courses and what it takes to be admitted after Early College. This person monitors every student’s progress so they are on track to graduate.

These kinds of partnership are able to work because Akron Early College High School sits right on the main campus of the University of Akron.

“Part of our success is the Power of Place,” stresses Herold.

The Early College students start as 9th graders on our college campus. They never know high school to be anything other than the college campus.

As freshmen, students at Akron Early College High School take core content and are taught by high school teachers on our campus. They may take one or two courses as 9th graders, e.g., physical education, speech, health. By the time they are juniors, the vast majority are taking university-level courses. “We use the inverted pyramid in terms of the number of college courses students take,” explained Herold. “In the end, 100 % of our students are graduating with over 60 college credits and 90% have earned an associate degree.”

Lots of supports are in place to help students at Akron Early College High School. A homework club and tutoring services are readily available.

“We do reports every nine weeks to make sure we know how students are doing,” said Herold. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to check on student progress. We’ve also put in place a senior seminar, which we learned is critical to help these young people transition—it includes FAFSA, college application information, as well as bringing in young leaders from the community who ‘talk straight’ to them.”

While students at Akron Early College High School receive a lot of support, they are also expected to give back in the form of 30 hours of community service each year. “Students recognize that the community is doing a great deal for them, and they need to show how much this means to them,” said Herold.

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Teacher sat around a crowded conference room at the end of a summer professional development session in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. The next school year would be an adjustment: Ninth graders were transitioning into a historically 10th through 12th grade environment.

Around the room, more than 400 large pieces of paper adorned on the walls. Each paper clearly displayed the name of an incoming ninth grader. The teachers were assigned a task: If you know something about a student – how they learn, their favorite food, something about their family situation – write your name on the paper.

It was an interested exercise, according to EDWorks Technical Assistance Coach Dr. Dan Hoffman, who is a former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. Some students had 5-6 teachers signed on to their sheets. Others had none. It was a clear demonstration of which students still needed personal advocates at the school.

“It wasn’t simple, but we had to strategize to figure out how to personalize their learning experiences,” Dan said. “It was critical.”

Personalization is part of the recipe for Early College High School student success. If students are offered high-quality, rigorous learning environments that are specific to their own interests and strengths, they have a better chance of succeeding. If students have personal advocates throughout the school, to whom they can turn with questions, concerns or hardships, they can be encouraged by cheerleaders who believe they can succeed.

“You can throw the rest out the door if you don’t know the kids and strategize how to know them,” Dan said.

To learn more about how to personalize education, check out these resources:

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