While Dayton Public Schools has a reputation as a failing school district -- it has scored at or near the bottom of the state in standardized testing for years -- there are numerous successful students with amazing stories to tell. Here are a few of them.
Devontae Jackson’s eyes light up when he talks about severe weather. The 17-year-old rattles off meteorological terms – derechos, convection currents — with the fervor of a die-hard sports fan listing his team’s starting lineup.
“When you watch thunderstorms blossom and develop it’s really interesting … or especially with hurricanes,” he said, sitting in his office where he works as station manager of the Ponitz Career Technology Center high school radio station.
“I like the idea of being a meteorologist because I’d help protect lives and property,” he said. “That is actually the goal of the National Weather Service, to protect life and property, and that’s pretty much the goal of every meteorologist in the world.”
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Jackson’s dream of being a forecaster got a boost this year when he was selected to go to New York for the prestigious Princeton University Summer Journalism Program. Not even a senior, he is already talking to college recruiters.
Jackson has faced hardships and setbacks, but he keeps his eyes on the sky and channels his energy into his blog: The Greater Dayton Weather Post.
“I wanted things I could use so when I applied for colleges they’d say, ‘Oh wow, he’s really interested and dedicated to weather.’”
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When media arts instructor Joanne Casale Viskup learned of his blog, she offered him a job doing weather forecasting on the CTC radio station, WDPS-FM. This exposure cemented his desire to be a broadcast meteorologist, and bolstered his resume as he worked his way up to station manager and won several awards.
“Every time I see my great granny she cries just because she’s so happy with the work I’ve done,” he said. “That’s why I can’t wait to graduate next year, because she really wants to see me walk across the stage.”
And after that, for Jackson, the sky is the limit.
Cato Mayberry III
Cato Mayberry III has it all figured out.
“I want to be able to lawyer, start that off, then after I’ve reached the age that is the limit for president I’m going to try to become the president, and once my term is up I plan on becoming a biochemist,” the 12-year-old said.
He could totally pull it off. The rising eighth-grader at Dayton Boys Preparatory Academy is captain of his school’s debate team, a straight-A student, and traveled to San Francisco last year as part of a science camp sponsored by Verizon.
Then there’s the school stock exchange team – where he learned to be cautious with pharma stock — math Olympics, robotics, track, basketball. He is the kid every school district wants.
And DPS may lose him. After his eighth-grade year, Cato’s parents are debating whether to send him to Stivers, or try to get into the private Miami Valley School, or maybe Northmont through open enrollment.
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His father, Cato Mayberry II, said he chose Dayton Boys Prep primarily because of its breadth of academic extracurriculars, but the school appears to struggle to keep good teachers and he doesn’t feel his son is being pushed hard enough.
“I don’t want him to breeze through. I don’t want him to be the brightest star in the room all the time. He needs to have to grow,” he said.
Though he complained about the class size and number of subs, Cato has good reviews of Dayton Boys.
“They provide a good learning span and they give you information that would be useful when it comes to testing and the real world,” he said.
When Ragina Drake transferred from Fairborn schools to Dayton Public Schools the second quarter of her freshman year, she didn’t know what to expect. She applied to Ponitz Career Tech, but because of the mid-year transfer she could only get into Dunbar High School the first year.
“As I transferred I heard so many negative things and stereotypes about Dunbar,” she said, such as “it’s a ghetto and all they do is fight.”
Drake would go on to discover Dunbar’s college credit plus program that allowed her to graduate this spring as valedictorian of Dunbar, and with 40 hours of college credit on her transcript.
“I feel like Dunbar opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” said Drake, who has a scholarship to North Carolina A&T. She wants to study law and some day run her own firm.
She said there really weren’t more fights at Dunbar than at Fairborn. She said there were great teachers and students. She believes many of the students who didn’t apply themselves were having problems at home.
“We learn the same (in Fairborn and DPS). We’re taught out of the same books. The only difference is some students act like they don’t want to learn because things they are going through we might not know about,” she said.
“My parents have always pushed me to want to succeed in my goals,” she said.
By the time Nosferatu Espinoza graduates from Dunbar high school, the 16-year-old will likely already have an associate’s degree at no cost.
But he’ll have more than that: the experience of being team captain of the school’s wrestling team, serving on the student senate and as a member of the National Honors Society. He wants to be an aerospace engineer.
“I love to design stuff,” Espinoza said. “For my ninth-grade science project I worked on a pulse jet engine I made in my back yard with some galvanized steel stove piping that was just in a u-bend.”
Espinoza is one of about 110 Dunbar students attending college either at the high school or at Sinclair.
Espinoza adapted to a pretty abrupt cultural change when his family moved here from Athens, Ohio, in 2016 to be closer to his grandparents. He went from a rural district where the bus driver played classic country cassette tapes on the way to school, to an urban one where rap music is much more common.
He enjoys his classes at Sinclair, where he starts his days in the winter so he can get back to Dunbar for wrestling practice in the afternoon. The rest of the year, he starts at Dunbar then gets free bus fare to Sinclair.
This summer he was accepted to take part in the competitive Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership training and community service program.
When asked what the community can do to help more kids like him succeed, he said “It all starts at home, in teaching good, strong moral foundations for your kids.”
“A lot of people knock on DPS, like I’ve heard that my whole life,” said Gracie Hobbs, explaining how people react when she says she attends Dayton schools.
“They kind of groan like it’s a bad school and, I’m like, ‘No, we’re probably better than you,’” she said. “You know, in the most humble way.”
Hobbs graduated this year from Stivers School for the Arts. She is an accomplished artist. A watercolor painting she made of a building behind the school won a first place regional award. Her charcoal drawings are amazing.
She plans to attend Ohio State University with help from a scholarship program only available to students at the large urban districts, including DPS. There, she wants to study athletic training and some day get a doctorate in physical therapy.
She learned about sports medicine from playing volleyball much of her life, including at Stivers where she also played softball.
Before Stivers, she attended Horace Mann Pre-K-6. And in addition to playing sports, learning the arts and graduating with a 3.9 GPA, Hobbs said she learned from being surrounded by students of different races and sexual identities.
“There’s so much diversity, but that’s in all of DPS. That’s one of the main things I love about it, too,” she said. “It has broadened my perspective on the world.”
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