Non-traditional high school graduates grows

The majority of Ohio public high school seniors still graduate from traditional schools but a growing number of them are graduating from non-traditional high schools, including brick-and-mortar charter schools, e-schools and the newest entry, STEM schools.

The Dayton Regional STEM School will give diplomas to 52 graduates at its first commencement ceremony on June 1 at Kettering’s Fairmont High School auditorium. The school — one of 12 STEM schools in Ohio with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — opened four years ago. About 430 students in grades 6-12 attend the school at 1724 Woodman Drive in Kettering.

“All of these students have completed an internship experience. That’s one of our graduation requirements,” school spokeswoman Laurie McFarlin said, noting that all graduates also were required to take three years of a foreign language, including two years of Mandarin Chinese.

An analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute of state report card data over several years shows the growth in the number of graduates from these non-traditional schools.

The most rapid growth has been among e-schools, where students do their studies online from home. There were 63 e-school graduates in 2002, 1,096 in 2006 and 3,373 in 2011.

Dawn Winsett 18, of Miamisburg, will be among 180 seniors graduating from Ohio Connections Academy, an online charter school she started attending in the eighth grade.

“I didn’t fit in the with kids at school,” she said. “I was too distracted in a traditional classroom and staying here (at home) helped keep me on track and focused.”

She enjoyed the flexibility of taking classes online and has received a three-year scholarship to attend Sinclair Community College through the Young Scholars program. She will be the first person in her family to go to college.

That thrills her mother, Frances Winsett, who believes they made the right decision and is anxiously awaiting the traditional commencement ceremony in Columbus.

“We put her in this and she flourished,” she said. “Now we’re at graduation and it’s exciting.”

The number of graduates from brick-and-mortar charter schools also has grown, from 517 in 2002, 2,028 in 2006 and 2,887 in 2011.

Meanwhile, the number of traditional school graduates has been up and down in that same period. It rose from 126,428 in 2002 to 135,246 in 2006, but then dropped to 117,610 in 2011, according to the analysis by Fordham, which advocates for school choice.

Aaron Churchill, Ohio researcher and data analyst for Fordham, observed that “especially for high-school students in urban areas like Dayton, a greater range of schooling options have been made available, and kids and parents are taking advantage of these choices.” He pointed out that the graduation count for Dayton Public Schools was 906 students in 2000, compared to 682 in 2011 — a 25 percent drop.

Churchill noted that brick-and-mortar charters in the region graduated 367 students in 2011, with dozens more students graduating from other non-traditional schools like the Dayton Regional STEM School and e-school charters.

“The rapid fragmentation of the educational marketplace is, on the whole, good for high-school students, who now have opportunities to access schools that meet their needs and interests, both within the traditional district such as the arts-themed Stivers School for the Arts, or outside of it like Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), a charter school that places a heavy emphasis on preparing kids for success in college,” he said.

Both Stivers and DECA are in the Dayton Public School District, which is in the midst of eight commencement ceremonies running from May 18 through Tuesday.

In addition to DECA, the school district also sponsors another charter school, the Dayton Business Technology High School.

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