Matthew Chalmers has big plans for his future: college, medical school and a career as a surgeon. But first, he needs to get through high school. Because Matthew is a student at Marysville Early College High School in Marysville, Ohio, he is getting a jump-start on his dreams. He will have the opportunity to earn up to 60 college credits while still in high school, or an associate degree, which will make a huge dent in the time it takes him to fulfill his dreams.

Marysville Early College High School just opened its doors this past Fall, meaning Matthew is part of the legacy class, or first graduating class, scheduled to graduate in 2018. For him, the prospects of college experience while still in high school was a big draw.

“The college courses being offered are one reason I chose to come to Marysville Early College High School,” Matthew said. “I am planning to go into the biomedical program being offered.”

The biomedical program is one of several pathways students have from which to choose. Marysville Early College High School worked with their partners, like Honda of America Manufacturing, Otterbein University and Columbus State Community College, to develop curriculum that would help prepare them for college and different career paths.

The entire freshman class of Marysville Early College High School is enrolled in “COLLS 1100.” This is their introduction to college and provides students with a general overview of the skills needed to succeed in the college environment, like time management and organization.

“The course is a basic course that is meant to prepare us for other college courses and to help us know what to expect in a college environment,” said Matthew.

As Matthew and his classmates get further into their Early College careers, they will be taking more and more colleges courses. Having a good support system in place is necessary to make that work.

“The staff at Marysville Early College High School is outstanding,” said Matthew. “There is not a single teacher in the school who is not willing to stay after school or work with students during study halls or lunch.”

Classes within Marysville Early College High School are small, which means students get a lot of one-on-one time with teachers. The freshman class is made up of only 140 people, so students build a sense of comradery and teamwork.

While the school only has a freshman class now, each year over the next three years, Marysville Early College High School will be adding one additional class to the school until there are freshman, sophomores, junior and seniors. Eighth graders are able to look to current students and decide if Marysville Early College High School is the right school for them.

“The school helps students to find what they want to do in life with all of the different opportunities and pathways offered,” Matthews offers as feedback for eighth graders considering Marysville Early College High School. “College courses are nearly free and you can earn up to about 62 credits in some pathways. Marysville Early College High School is a great environment for students to test themselves, take more responsibility and better prepare themselves for the future.”

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Jodi Robertson, a teacher at Marysville Early College High School, with her family.

Jodi Robertson, a teacher at Marysville Early College High School in Marysville, Ohio, shown here with her husband and two children.

In honor of Early College High School Week, we did a Q&A with teacher Jodi Robertson. Jodi is a 9th grade Humanities teacher at Marysville Early College High School, which opened at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. She is the Social Studies teacher but co-teaches with an English teacher. Prior to joining Marysville Early College High School, Jody taught 7th and 8th grade Social Studies and was an Instructional Coach for grades 7-12 ELA and Social Studies.

EDWorks: What is your favorite part of teaching?

Jodi Robertson: My favorite part of teaching is the problem-solving. Whether it be lesson development, curriculum design, determining a feedback loop, or addressing the social-emotional needs of students; every aspect of my job entails some sort of riddle to solve. These riddles keep me actively engaged and inspired by my job. It turns potentially frustrating situations into exciting opportunities. I love that doing my job well means I am always on my toes, looking for the next opportunity to change my way of thinking and my approach to guiding my students’ learning.

EDWorks: How would you describe Marysville Early College High School to someone?

Jodi Robertson: I would first describe it as an ongoing, never-ending design challenge. Marysville Early College High School is built on the principle of never becoming comfortable with a status quo. As a result, there are only a few elements that remain consistent. Our students and parents must be resilient and flexible to change. We utilize the design process we want modeled by our students. We identify problems, plan and create solutions, and try to communicate those to parents and students.

One concrete element would be the opportunity to earn college credit when you are ready, rather than the pre-determined and somewhat random age of 18. Those credits also come at a great savings at a time when the cost of college is real concern for most families.

Staff of Marysville Early College High School.

Staff of Marysville Early College High School during the early phases of the school’s creation.

Another unchanging philosophy is mastery learning. We believe all students can learn and make growth, which is embodied in this philosophy. Students must master 80 percent of the standards to pass the course. This means we regularly measure their progress and plan our units based on the gaps we see. Students go back into the standards they get a “Not Yet” in and work on achieving “Mastery” for as long as it takes.

The path to mastery grading is standard/skills-based learning. Our conversations revolve not around activities, but learning. What do kids know or what they can do? How do we know that? Our staff collaboration room is constantly abuzz with attempts to breakdown learning and solve the problems we confront. Students must demonstrate mastery of skills and standards, not tests and quizzes. This forces a type of conversation I have not found consistently present in past positions. Point to an assessment question or rubric, and any one of us can tell you why we put it there and what we hope to learn from it.

EDWorks: Part of our EDWorks coaching is on making sure every lesson relevant to the student’s real world. Can you give an example of how you do that? Why do you think making that connection is important?

Jodi Robertson: As a result of combining English Language Arts with Social Studies, we can easily identify to students why every outcome we work toward is relevant. At the onset of introducing any new learning target, we discuss with students why we have chosen that target and in what ways it applies to their learning and life.

Respecting our students as learners requires us to insure the relevance of our lessons.With each unit, we attempt to include a rich, relevant product. For example, the last unit we did we a “Campaign for Change” in which students identified a problem in society and built business proposals and presentations for a call to action. They researched the Gilded Age and Progressive era for examples of strategies others have used in the past to improve society. Our local United Way and a group of women who have recently started an organization to educate young girls about the dangers of the sex trade in the US, came and spoke to the group about their experiences, and then returned to judge our top group presentations.

Respecting our students as learners requires us to insure the relevance of our lessons. As a matter of utility, students are also more engaged and less resistant when the relevance of a lesson is made apparent. Our job is to prepare students for their life outside the inevitably generic confines of our building. This simply cannot be done without relevance at the center of all learning.

EDWorks: Can you share an example of when you have seen one of your students have an “A ha!” moment and really connect all of the pieces in a lesson?

Jodi Robertson: The best “A ha” I’ve experienced this year was not over a single lesson, but a realization the student had about himself and what he was capable of. This student was failing every class in the first quarter. He was overwhelmed, angry and defeated. He is in my Nucleus (advisory group) and we sat down to really plan how he was going to dig out. His “A ha” happened over a series of weeks, but I watched him see what it takes to be a “learner” and not just a task accomplisher. This week he came to see me to fix an assignment from the beginning of the year. I flippantly said, “You have an ‘A.’ already. He looked at me and said, “I no longer see myself as someone who should keep ‘Not Yets.’ It bothers me to see it when I check my mastery.” This kid who was at the bottom rung of learners just two months ago, totally schooled me in that moment. He has had this profound “A ha” moment that is better than any I could ever hope to get out of a single lesson. Now the challenge is how to create that in even more students.

EDWorks: Can you share an example of how the professional development an EDWorks coach has been providing at your school has affected what you do in the classroom?

Jodi Robertson: We have had the opportunity to have a few of the EDWorks coaches come work with us throughout the development of this building. One example that sticks in my mind was not necessarily a specific Professional Development session, but rather guidance through the bumps along the way. We are fortunate to have started with a staff that is highly motivated, philosophically driven and inspired by the potential this model offers. As a result, much of the support we needed was not in the realm of how to do mastery learning or design-based instruction, but instead how to navigate the many bumps along the way that this shift creates. Lori Phillips, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning for EDWorks, has spent a number of days listening and providing advice to our staff. This time has been invaluable to us as a staff and a problem-solving team.

EDWorks: In terms of the work EDWorks is doing with your school, what are you excited about when thinking about the future?

Jodi Robertson: I am hugely excited to continue the journey with these students into the Early College model. I have never been a part an Early College and am continuing to learn what that means in action. I see the great potential this environment and curriculum make possible and am curious to see functionally how it works as students progress forward.

Schools have always been great at providing supply, but often without consideration for demand.EDWorks: Your school has several big partnerships. How do those community partners affect what’s happening in the classroom?

Jodi Robertson: It is still incredibly early in our process and we are excited for the strong and continual growth in our partnerships. Our partners were integral in deciding upon and planning the pathways available at Marysville Early College High School. They are pathways that are responsive to the demands of the work market place right now and into the foreseeable future. Schools have always been great at providing supply, but often without consideration for demand. These partnerships help bridge that gap.

EDWorks: What makes you most excited about the Early College High School model? What do you think it offers your students?

Jodi Robertson: I am most excited about the opportunity for personalization that this option provides. As each level progresses, students become more attune to the pathway their life is heading toward. This model ties their personal journey to their academic journey in a meaningful way. For our struggling learners, their education adjusts to find what success looks like for them. For our more gifted learners, junior and senior year no longer risk becoming a hollow experience waiting for college to start. Individualization is the key to successfully educate all kids and this model moves us in that direction.

EDWorks: Thanks so much for your time! It’s been great talking with you. Is there anything you want to add?

Jodi Robertson: I feel like it would be remiss to write about this school without heavily emphasizing the staff involved. I have never worked in a more collaborative, innovative or flexible environment. We have struggled through this year together, been one another’s support system, and most importantly inspired one another to be reliant and innovative though it all.

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Making Early College the New Normal

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Early College High School is one of the most effective way to ensure low income, first-generation college-going, minority and “those students in the middle” achieve the goal of college completion for all. This week we have been celebrating Early College High Schools: the successes for students, schools and communities. I challenge us to go one […]

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Elijah Mejia likes a challenge. That was one reason this fourteen-year-old chose to attend Marysville Early College High School, an EDWorks partner school. The other was to get a head start on earning college credits. Elijah has always been an A student and didn’t find school very challenging. That has changed since he started at […]

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As we celebrate Early College High School Week, one question on my mind is, “How do we bring the Early College experience to more communities?” Scaling any education initiative at the state level is a difficult proposition demanding results, clear strategic vision, focused alignment of enabling policies, and the right funding structures. Matt Williams, the […]

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a community open house for Marysville Early College High School.  It is always exciting to see an idea come to fruition. Last year, we started working with Marysville Exempted Village Schools to create an early college high school. They wanted to ensure that students graduating from their district […]

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