Tuesday May 27, 2008

College Dreams Now Reality

For all of the 48 students who will graduate from Dayton Early College Academy this summer, the once-distant dream of going to college is now a reality.

Forty-three Dayton Early College Academy students will walk the aisle at graduation May 30, and five more are on track to earn a diploma in June. Three will graduate with an associate's degree and all have been accepted as full-time college students this fall, with 19 planning to attend the University of Dayton.

The University of Dayton founded DECA in 2003 in partnership with Dayton Public Schools to prepare students from low-income, urban families to go to college. It is the first early college high school in Ohio and the only charter school in the nation operated by a Catholic university.

Most of the 215 students who attend DECA are from low-income and minority families and will be the first in their families to go to college. Several students are raised by single parents, share household duties or have witnessed drug and alcohol abuse at home, said DECA Principal Judy Hennessey.

"We see complex lives and adult responsibilities on their young shoulders. The greatest stories are in their tenacity," she said.

Here are three of those stories:

Raising the bar

Tremayne Hogue saw a lot of crime and violence growing up in what he calls "the hood."

"I know people who have robbed, been arrested, been killed," Hogue said. "Someone I graduated eighth grade with is facing a life sentence for murder. I chose to distance myself from those situations. My parents raised me to be above those things."

His choices have paid off as he is poised to graduate from DECA this month and attend UD in the fall as an engineering major.

Hogue will be a first-generation college student, and although his older brother was the first to attend college full-time, he points out the he started taking college courses in his first year at DECA before his older brother graduated high school.

"My dad pits us against each other," Hogue said. "It's a rite of passage in our family to do better than the person before you."

And while he is proud of his accomplishments, he has higher expectations for his younger brother and sisters, the oldest of whom will also attend DECA.

"My brother set the bar, I raised it, and I want my sister to raise the bar for the others," he said. "She can graduate with an associate's degree. That's something I couldn't do."

The importance of education

Growing up in a home where education was valued but seldom achieved, Maxx Schmidt is determined to make the most of his chance to attend the University of Dayton in the fall.

He knows first-hand the consequences of giving up on education.

An older brother had earned a four-year scholarship to Ohio State University but dropped out after just one year. He spent a few years working low-paying jobs and hanging with bad company. In 2002, while with a friend, Schmidt's brother died of a gunshot wound under circumstances still undetermined.

"Had he stayed in school, he most likely wouldn't have been put in the situation that got him killed, and he would have been doing something he loved," Schmidt said.

Like many of his classmates, Schmidt chose to attend DECA for the chance to earn college credit. While accumulating close to 70 credits, he also discovered through job shadowing that he did not want to be an architect, as he had long planned, because he found "it was mostly a desk job."

Summer work with a friend's construction company and a job shadow with city of Dayton civil engineers put him on a new course toward a degree in civil engineering.

He credits his success to his mother, who always encouraged and supported him, and DECA, which made his college opportunity possible.

A changed life

When Hadil Issa and her family fled the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001 for the United States, she couldn't speak any English.

Today, she is poised to graduate from DECA with nearly 35 college credits and will attend the University of Dayton to study nanotechnology as a chemical engineering major. And she speaks English with ease and fluency.

"When I hear about people graduating from college in Palestine and there are no jobs, it makes me realize how fortunate I am to be here," she said.

As the second of eight children, Issa sees herself as a role model. But after her first three years in local public schools, she said she never felt challenged.

"I thought, 'If this is going to be this easy, I don't want to be here,' " she said about her school experience before deciding to attend DECA. The education and environment at the early college academy changed her perception.

"I believe I would have succeeded in any high school, but had I not come to DECA, I would not feel as confident as I do presenting to a large group of people, I would not be able to type papers as professionally, and I would not be going to UD," she said. "I also love the diversity at DECA."

Issa has participated in the Dayton Sister Cities convention in Washington, D.C., and served on the Dayton Council on World Affairs.

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