DECA Marks Highlights of Second Year

06.10.2005 | Campus and CommunityAs the Dayton Early College Academy's second year draws to a close, the positive results of its innovative approach to high school are becoming more apparent. The school, a partnership between the University of Dayton and Dayton Public Schools, was recognized as a national model and studied by an Ivy League university.

This year's attendance rate was 97 percent, much higher than most urban high schools.

DECA students took more than 60 different college courses at the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College. For example, this spring, 48 students were enrolled in college courses, with 36 of them taking two or more courses.

"We're creating a different way of going to high school with a singular focus on preparing students for the rigor of college," said Judy Hennessey, who became principal of DECA in December 2004, succeeding Tim Nealon. "Our next focus will be to turn to the community to afford students the opportunity to learn and practice career-related skills in their natural settings."

During the 2004-2005 school year, students spent "hundreds of hours" volunteering with community organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, Hennessey said. They also participated in community events, including the Walk for Women's Wellness, and worked on educational projects with community organizations, undertaking such tasks as identifying trees at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum. In addition, students participated in the Dayton Mediation Center's peer mediation program.

"At DECA, students are in charge of their success," second-year student Victoria Underwood said. "Even though the purpose of the school is to get students in college classes and even with all the work students have, they also have very helpful teachers who students feel comfortable enough to approach for anything."

Harvard University's Graduate School of Education identified such personal relationships with teachers as a key reason why DECA is showing early success in helping students work toward long-term goals. Harvard researchers selected DECA as one of two early college high schools nationwide, the other being The Accelerated School in Los Angeles, as part of a long-term study of such schools. The team of researchers made a second visit to DECA this past spring to collect more data.

Another study, released in January, noted that DECA is showing progress toward increasing graduation and college-readiness rates for low-income and minority students. The study by WestEd, a nonprofit education research organization, featured five high school models, including DECA, that represent a growing national network of academically rigorous high schools designed to prepare students for college and work.

"DECA has become a model for what early college high schools offer in terms of enhancing the academic potential of urban students," said Thomas J. Lasley, dean of UD's School of Education and Allied Professions, who has been instrumental in DECA's development. "If we deliver on our promises to help urban youngsters join the college culture, we will have strengthened not only this community but all urban communities that are struggling with problems such as high drop-out rates and student disengagement."

This early progress has garnered DECA significant support. Bank One recently awarded the school $30,000 to help establish student internships. The KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Ohio's largest public education philanthropy guiding the development of early college high schools in the state, continued its support with the next installment of its $400,000 grant to DECA. Public officials visited DECA throughout the year, including U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester.

Students, too, are spreading the word. They addressed the Dayton City Commission to introduce the early college high school concept. Two students and two teachers traveled to Bosnia as part of a Dayton Peace Accords trip, a group of students went to a film festival in New York City, and 60 traveled to Washington, D.C., to study the election process.

"DECA is redefining education at the high school level," said Percy Mack, superintendent of Dayton Public Schools. "Students in the program are taking ownership of their academic future and imagining possibilities that may once have seemed unattainable."

Early college high schools are designed to reach students who have lots of academic potential but have not been successful in more traditional settings.

"Of all the great things at DECA, the best is the individualism," second-year student Kristan Baker said. "Whatever it is that you may be interested in, DECA teachers will have your schedule revolve around it."

The school has accepted 75 students to enter next year, about half the number who applied, Hennessey said. School ended on June 10 at DECA, although students will be at school the week of June 13 completing independent study projects and DECA's freshman class will be attending orientation at the school the week of June 20. School will resume on Aug. 9.

For media interviews, contact Judy Hennessey at (937) 542-5642 or Thomas Lasley at (937) 229-3327.