Tori Ball graduated from Akron Early College High School in May of 2012. Three days later, she graduated with her associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology from the University of Akron. Because of her early college experience, Tori entered the University of Toledo with 68.5 college credit hours and was able to earn her Bachelor’s degree in only 2 years. A combination of free college credits earned while in high school and college scholarships means that when Tori graduated from college last month, she graduated debt free.

More and more frequently, people are questioning the high cost of a college education, even though studies consistently show that college graduates on average earn more over a lifetime than people who only have a high school diploma (PDF).  Tori is a first-generation college-goer and the cost of college was on her mind when she made her decision to enter Akron Early College High School.

“Attending an Early College High School saved me $40,000 dollars and two years of my time,” she said. “I also had the perk of having wonderful support systems in place, which may not have been there if I didn’t go to Akron Early College High School.”

EDWorks Fast Track Early College High Schools, like Akron Early College High School, are set up to make sure that each student has an individualized learning plan as well as the supports necessary to success. For Tori, some of that support came in the form of Pat Millhoff, JD, her criminal justice professor.

“Since I was a child, I knew that I wanted to work in the Criminal Justice system,” Tori said. “In my junior year of high school, I took a class at the University of Akron from Professor Millhoff, who was a defense attorney for many years. She took me under her wing and she helped me realized that law was the path I wanted to follow.”

Next year Tori will enter law school at University of Toledo. “During my undergraduate, I minored in women’s studies and it enlightened me on all of the social issues in our society,” she said. “I hope to one day be an activist for women and minority groups using my law degree.”

Right now Tori is planning for her future, but she is grateful to the foundation Akron Early College High School gave her. In addition to the cost benefits, Early College High Schools help ease the transition between high school and college.

“When I first moved into the dorms at the University of Toledo, most of the new freshman were overstressed and didn’t know what  to do with all of the responsibly that came along with college, but I was prepared and knew I could achieve anything I put my mind to,” Tori said. “The freedom of college life didn’t shock me as much as it did my peers, which helped me achieve more things.”

That focus on achievement on is also a result of Tori’s time at Akron Early College High School. There, being the first in her family to graduate from college became an attainable goal.

“I always knew that college was an important aspect of life to me and I wanted to do things in life that wouldn’t be possible without a college degree,” Tori said. “My grandmother and aunt always reminded me that going to college was important. Akron Early College High School reinforced these ideals and showed me that college wasn’t impossible or too hard.”

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At the heart of a small community nestled between two railroad tracks in Birmingham, Alabama, lies Henry J. Oliver Elementary School. Teaching at the school for 21 years, fifth grade teacher Constance Fields is now teaching the sons and daughters of some of her former students. She knows how important a role the school plays in the area.

“This is a low income community with a lot of pride,” Fields said. “Yards are manicured and draped with flowers. There is cultural diversity with multiple dwellings, single family dwellings, townhomes, apartments and government housing. The parents in the community depend on us to educate their kids so they will have better lives. They trust their kids to our care.”

Oliver Elementary School is one of five schools within the Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN). As part of the work occurring in those schools, EDWorks coaches are collaborating with staff at the schools “to reorganize traditional school structures into models of innovation and moving from traditional classrooms to spaces of student-centered, blended learning focused on the academic growth of every child as they are immersed in Inquiry and problem-solving,” said Robin Kanaan, EDWorks’ National Director of Teaching and Learning.

EDWorks Technical Assistance Coach Patti Gibson has been working with Oliver Elementary School and admires the way Fields’ teaches her students life skills as well as content, all the while fostering student independence. Gibson has also been bringing new ideas to the classroom.

“Ms. Patti is a beam of light. She has provided us with so many marvelous ideas, information and resources,” Fields said. “She encourages us to take risks inside the classroom. Being in the classroom for 25 years, it was not easy giving up the firm authoritative role. I always wanted the classroom to be extremely structured, but because of her sound advice, I learned to adapt and allow students to feel comfortable enough to move around from place to place, use computers, locate documents, and use whatever materials they need in an orderly fashion. Now they monitor their progress, own their learning and they are excited about learning!”

Some of that excitement comes from Fields’ ability to make every lesson relevant to the student’s real world. When her class was studying the Civil Rights Movement, they read The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. To teach cause and the effect of the movement, each student was assigned to do research online and then interview someone from their neighborhood who participated as a “foot soldier” for the movement — grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, neighbors or teachers. Those interviews were recorded and then presented to the class followed by discussion.

“This lesson helped students understand the concept of racism, bias, bigotry, prejudice, equality and discrimination,” Fields said.

The Aha! moment for the lesson came after the class learned about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. After some emotional discussion, the students charted ideas of how they could make their community a better place to live.

“The students designed their own TVs, like the floor model televisions referenced in The Watson Go to Birmingham. They had to draw their plans, measure and cut materials and write a short description about that part in the story and the importance of TV in the early 1960s. That was the ‘Aha.’”

Right now the work within the Woodlawn Innovation Network is in its early stages but Fields is already seeing results and is excited for the opportunities to come.

“Our students need to know that they have a future,” she said. “Schools need to get them prepared. We have to make sure that kids from this community have the opportunity to become global competitors just like kids from surrounding communities. We want these students to be able to contribute to society as well as their own community. I see them designing bridges and super highways, building homes, constructing centers for the elderly, providing food and medicines for the less fortunate. I visualize them as businessmen and businesswomen constructing a place where safety is not a concern but a reality. These students are our future.”

Fields is investing in our future by working alongside her students, attempting to be what she calls the “steam that moves these locomotives” and help students through their life journeys towards a rewarding future.

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Each Day is a Teachable Day

May 28, 2014
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“Henry J. Oliver Elementary School is a school with a lot of love,” said second grade teacher Tamika L. Smith. “Love for learning, caring and growing.” Smith has been teaching at Oliver Elementary for the past three years and at Gate City Elementary School prior to that. Oliver Elementary is one of five schools within […]

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Standing Out: Akron Early College High School Gave Aries Brown an Edge in School and Career

May 16, 2014
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Aries Brown is an outgoing, motivated person – she loves to travel and experience new things. When she started high school at Akron Early College High School (AECHS), she was a member of the school’s very first incoming class, so everything was brand new. The basis for the school, though, was the evidence-based EDWorks Fast […]

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Thriving After Attending Toledo Early College High School

May 12, 2014
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After Lauren Merrell graduated from Toledo Early College High School (TECHS) with her diploma and 63 college credits from the University of Toledo (UT), she continued on at UT in  pharmacy school. Despite being familiar with the university campus and prepared for college by her time at TECHS, Lauren struggled. “My grandmother became ill and […]

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The Obstacles Facing First-Generation College Goers

April 25, 2014

A cursory viewing of the documentary First Generation might lead you to believe that the obstacle facing first-generation college goers is money.  The cost to apply to college can be prohibitive. Tuition costs are certainly daunting, particularly if you don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to successfully navigate the financial aid system. Attending […]

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