Thursday May 28, 2009

'We Can Go to College'

Every member of the Dayton Early College Academy Class of 2009 is going to college. All have completed at least three college courses, while some have 40 credits or more, and the entire class has been offered $1.4 million in scholarships - a record of nearly $54,000 average per student.

When Darius Johnson steps onto the University of Dayton campus this fall as a first-year engineering student, he will be the first in his family to go to college. But Johnson — part of the Dayton Early College Academy's third graduating class — is already looking ahead: he wants to be the first in his family to graduate from college.

"I would look at myself as a failure if I didn't graduate," said Johnson, who was accepted to 11 colleges. "My whole family is watching me, they're one of the main reasons I want to succeed. I want to show the people in my family that we can do it. We can go to college."

As a DECA graduate, his chances of success are high.

The innovative charter school operated by the University of Dayton will grant high school diplomas to 26 students at 6 p.m. June 1 at the David H. Ponitz Sinclair Center, 444 W. Third St., Building 12 on the campus of Sinclair Community College. Like the two previous graduating classes, 100 percent have been accepted as full-time college students this fall, with six planning to attend the University of Dayton.

And they're going prepared.

All 26 graduates have completed at least three college courses while in high school, while some have 40 credits or more. This year's class has been offered $1.4 million in scholarships — a record of nearly $54,000 average per student — including one Gates Millennium Scholarship, a prestigious national award that will pay for all the costs of college through a post-graduate degree. To date, all of DECA's graduating classes have earned $3.4 million in scholarships.

"DECA sort of babies us when it comes to applying for college and scholarships," said Shaina Moore, who received a PACE/Urban League scholarship. "I've always planned on going to college, but I didn't know the steps to get there. If I was at another school, I'd probably be lost."

Moore will attend the University of Toledo to major in criminal justice and minor in counseling to become a probation officer. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who was a social worker before passing away 10 years ago. Although Moore is classified as a ward of the state, she lives with her great-uncle and great-aunt, who is scheduled to have open heart surgery on the day of her graduation.

"My graduation is all she's been talking about ever since I started at DECA," Moore said. "So she's pretty sad about missing it, but I know she'll be with me in spirit." DECA plans to record the ceremony and provide a copy of it to her great aunt.

"Our goal is to make it possible for students from diverse backgrounds to go to college who otherwise might not have explored the possibility," said Thomas J. Lasley II, dean of the University of Dayton's School of Education and Allied Professions. "But ultimately we want them to succeed, and DECA's approach seems to be working."

Of DECA's 32 graduates in 2007, all attended college and 75 percent returned for their sophomore years. Unofficial reports indicate an even greater percentage of last year's 48 graduates will return for a second year.

The University of Dayton founded DECA in 2003 in partnership with Dayton Public Schools as Ohio's first early college high school focused on helping low-income, minority and first-generation college-going students. DECA reorganized in 2007 as a charter school operated by the University of Dayton. It is the nation's only charter school operated by a Catholic university.

DECA focuses on preparing students for college work through personalized academic attention; the development of close relationships between teachers, families and students; rigorous academic work; and introducing students to college classes at the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College while still in high school.

"It's incredible to watch our students mature during their years at DECA," said principal Judy Hennessey. "Many of them come in with educational challenges or juggling adult responsibilities at home or simply having uncertainty about the future, and everyone of them graduates with confidence and high expectations for themselves and each other."

A recent study by KnowledgeWorks Foundation, one of the partner organizations involved in the national Early College High School Initiative, indicates more than one out of three early college graduates leaves high school with both a high school diploma and two years of college credit or an associate's degree. Overall, more than 80 percent of this year's early college graduates nationally have earned at least a semester of college credits, a tipping point identified by some experts as substantially increasing the odds of further college success.

The study also found significant savings for the state of Ohio through the early college initiative, as much as $27,000 for each student earning a bachelor's degree. By completing high school and attending college at the same time, students move through the education system and in to the economy more quickly, and students earn college credit tuition-free.

"Without early colleges, Ohio's urban environments would be further challenged to identify opportunities for hope," Lasley said. "But with the early colleges, significant numbers of young people are beginning to achieve the dream of a college degree."

The six students attending the University of Dayton this fall are:

  • Amber Beavers — Amber will be the first in her family to go to a four-year university. Diagnosed with eczema at an early age, she plans to become a dermatologist. "Right now, there is no cure for eczema, just treatments. I want to find a cure, and I think I can because I have extra motivation."
  • Jasmine Cammack — Jasmine will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. A fifth-year DECA student, she spent all of her time during the winter semester at Sinclair. She plans to major in biology and become a doctor or nurse working in a trauma center or emergency room. "I'm a positive person, and I work well under pressure."
  • Brandon Glasper — Brandon is the first in his family to go to college. After working an internship with the DECA school counselor, he decided he wanted to one day open his own clinical practice. He plans to major in psychology and minor in business.
  • Margaret Idiake — Sixteen-year-old Margaret moved with her family to the United States from Nigeria a year before beginning high school. She plans to major in chemical engineering and pursue a career in medical research, focusing on diabetes research, an illness affecting both her parents. In Nigeria, she started preschool a year early and skipped the sixth grade, putting her a year ahead of most of her peers. She will enter the University of Dayton having completed 46 credit hours at Sinclair Community College. "I don't feel like I'm younger than anyone else, like I have a challenge to overcome. I have a curiosity about things, and I jump in if it's really what I want to do."
  • Darius Johnson — Darius is the first in his family to go to college. Following up on his success in math and he science, he plans to major in mechanical engineering. He received the Dean's Merit Scholarship, the Sustainable Engineering Scholarship, the Minority in Engineering scholarship and the Minority Leadership scholarship from the University of Dayton.
  • Brennan Mai — Brennan will be the first in his family to go to college. He grew up in Dayton after his parents came to the U.S. from Vietnam in the 1980s. He will major in mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton, but he also plans on joining the police academy after college to pursue a career in law enforcement.

For more information, contact Meagan Pant, assistant director of media relations, at 937-229-3256 or mpant1@udayton.edu.