Meet Our Characters & Get to Know Our Schools
Chinese language teacher
“I really worry about…some students in our school…I think they need to work hard…They need to catch up with other generations in the world – like Asia.”
Hailing from a town of more than 3 million people outside Beijing, Chinese teacher Bin Che came to the United States on a foreign language teaching program. At first, he says Belpre, Ohio – a small town on the border of West Virginia – was not what he expected. Having watched many movies featuring American cities like New York and Las Vegas, Belpre – which sits on the banks of the Ohio River – seemed sleepy. But Bin says he made a lot of friends in his year teaching in Ohio, and learned a lot about American schools. Despite the energy of his students, Bin says he thinks they need to study harder to keep up with students in the rest of the world.
Graduate of Belpre High School
“I’m hoping to be a Chinese interpreter… that’ll be kind of cool. And then I can work down in Washington with the Chinese Ambassadors, or I can go to China and be an American Ambassador. All kinds of stuff like that.”
A recent graduate of Belpre High School, Roger was a star student in Bin Che’s Chinese class. He loved the language so much, he says, that he hoped to study it in college. But even if he attended a state school, Roger says the cost was prohibitive. So, the 18-year-old decided to join the Marines. Just two weeks after graduation, he shipped off to boot camp in Paris Island, South Carolina. After that, he’ll attend the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he hopes to earn a degree in Chinese. Then what? Roger says he loves life in Belpre, and might return. But career opportunities in the town, which is feeling the pinch of globalization, are scarce. Even Roger’s mother, Lisa Fought, says her son would have a better chance at success elsewhere. “The way the economy is now – if you don’t have an education, you have nothing,” she says. “You have to have a high school diploma to even work at McDonald’s nowadays. And working at McDonald’s is not going to pay rent. It’s not going to pay your utilities.”
Principal, Pleasant Hill Academy
“Every child deserves the opportunity to come to school and learn, and to be in an environment where they can learn. And, I think that is my biggest role here as the administrator.”
It’s been nearly two decades since Cherese began her career in the Cincinnati public school system – first as a teacher, then as an academic coach, and – finally – as Principal. When she took over Pleasant Hill Academy two years ago, the school had been labeled as an “academic emergency.” In her short tenure, Cherese has helped the school climb to “academic watch,” and hopes for even more improvement in the years to come.
Finnish exchange student, junior year
Lewis Center, Ohio
“I’ve had pretty much straight A’s since I came here, except for the first quarter I had one B, a B+. But that was just because I was just getting used to the language and speaking it.”
How did Anne Kuittinen, a student from the small town of Espoo, Finland, end up in Ohio? Call it curiosity, and a desire to learn English – which the 16-year-old calls the “language of the world.” Although she already speaks some English – in addition to Spanish, Swedish and German – Kuittinen says she loves languages and hopes to use them in her career. Living in the United States, she says, proved to be a memorable experience. Anne became close with her host family, the Kiplingers, and continues to speak with them regularly. As for her school experience, Kuittinen says it was also an easy adjustment – perhaps a little too easy. Although she earned straight A’s at Olentangy High School, which is rated as excellent, Anne is now redoing her junior year at home in Finland. Why? Because the Finnish school system, which consistently ranks at the top of international tests of math and science, doesn’t accept credits from America.
Fourth-grade language arts teacher, Pleasant Hill Academy
College Hill, Cincinnati
“Right now you’re up all night thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I not cover?’ So the closer it gets to testing the pressure is tough.”
A teacher for 13 years in the Cincinnati Public School System, last year marked Johnson’s first at Pleasant Hill. Although the job is challenging at times, Johnson says she loves to teach and most nights, she goes home happy. The mother of one says she applied to Pleasant Hill because of its new teacher training program – called TAP – which allows her to spend 90 minutes a week with mentors reviewing lesson plans and strategizing. Last year, her hard work paid off – with nearly all her students passing the writing portion of Ohio’s standardized test, called the OAT.
Second-year student, Metro High School
“(In) most schools you just sit down and read a book, but here you’re like actually hands-on, making videos, and actually doing like real-live stuff.”
She’s only 16 years old, and Lupe Medina is already taking college-level classes at Metro, a unique public school outside Columbus. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Lupe hasn’t yet decided on a career path, but is considering biomedical engineering. Next year, she’ll be enrolled in courses at Ohio State University.
First-year student, Metro High School
“It’s hard sometimes, though, because in a normal school you have a C, you can pass, but here you have to have an A. Sometimes that gets annoying, but at certain times, you know, you want to brag. You’re like, “I got an A in everything,” and you can literally say that because you have to.”
At Metro, she’s studying Chinese, American literature and algebra II/trigonometry. To get to and from Metro, she takes two public buses – a commute that consumes four hours of her day. DeJane says she’s not sure what career she will pursue, but that taking college classes before she finishes high school will help her to decide what’s right for her. And the earlier she decides, she says, the brighter her future looks.
Pleasant Hill Academy
In the diverse College Hill area outside Cincinnati, Pleasant Hill Elementary is part of a federally funded pilot program to improve teacher quality, called TAP. At this high poverty school, each teacher spends 90 minutes a week with a “master teacher” to help improve his or her lesson plan. “I have seen some of my veteran teachers blossom,” says Principal Cherese Clark. Teachers are also eligible for a bonus for improving students’ outcomes. Part of the evaluation is based on test scores on the all-important yearly state test, the OAT, used for NCLB reporting. To help improve student success, Pleasant Hill also offers on-site mental health services through a program called Ready To Learn. Principal Clark says these services are important in low-income schools.
“A number of them are in foster care,” says Clark. “We have some children that are from homes where they’ve suffered abuse. There may be drug abuse going on in the home. They need assistance and guidance and support here at school.”
Belpre High School sits in Ohio’s rural Appalachian region on the border of West Virginia. About 40 percent of the kids in the Belpre School District are economically disadvantaged, and only a quarter of its high school students go on to study at four-year colleges. Belpre has experienced the transition of globalization firsthand with factories closing and jobs moving overseas. The town faces serious financial strains because of a change in the tax structure. Remaining factories, such as two plastics manufacturers, were granted tax breaks by the state legislature, resulting in a serious shortfall for the school district. The district’s superintendent, Harry Fleming, applied for a state grant to bring in a Chinese language teacher to the school, hoping that he could give the students something that would help them get jobs. “Mandarin is the one of the most widely spoken languages in the world,” says Fleming. “We know the growing economy in China is probably going to play more and more of a role in our society. It seemed like a good thing to pursue.”
Metro High School is an alternative public high school focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). It was founded by the Ohio State University, a research and development company, Batelle, and several Columbus area school districts. Interested students apply and enter a lottery from 16 school districts. The school is diverse and about 40 percent of its students are low-income. There are no bells, lockers, or blackboards at the school, which started three years ago. Each grade has about 100 students. The curriculum favors hands-on learning in all disciplines. Each student is expected to master a subject before he or she moves on, allowing the student to take as long as is needed until he or she learns the material. Students can finish their requirements and begin taking college classes while still in high school. Principal Marcy Raymond says being different, flexible and fostering collaboration is imperative to helping students learn. “Every kid can learn,” says Raymond. “I don’t think there’s anyone here that can’t do that if given the right strategies and the right amount of time. We say we are a small school with a big footprint.”
Metro has run into opposition from officials in surrounding districts who argue it should be considered a charter school, and that students who want to attend it should pay tuition. This conflict is an example of just how tough it is to innovate within the existing school system.
Olentangy is the fastest growing school district in the fastest growing region in the state of Ohio. It is an affluent school district whose schools are consistently rated excellent. Olentangy High School offers 15 Advanced Placement classes and many electives. More than 90 percent of its students go on to higher education. And the district has just opened a new high school, it’s third. Principal Mindy Farry is proud of the school and its students’ success. “We’ve got just a bevy of academic courses, as well as other things students can dabble in, whether it’s fine arts or performing arts, or industrial technology,” says Farry. “We have mentorship programs. We also have a special needs department and intervention specialists working with some of our special needs students. There’s a little bit of a spot for everyone here, so they can get whatever they need to get them prepared for college.”