Summertime. While most 14-year-olds are at the pool, or playing video games, or meeting friends at the mall, one group of area teenagers spent 17 days slogging through the creek at the Cincinnati Nature Center, touring the Rumpke landfill to learn about solid waste, and doing experiments in the University of Cincinnati’s chemistry labs.
The 37 new freshmen from Milford, Deer Park, Winton Woods, and Mt. Healthy were the 2012 class of the Freshman Challenge, a program created by Great Oaks Career Campuses to help at-risk students get a head start on high school.
In the Freshman Challenge, students earn one science high school credit and a PE credit requirement through an intensive curriculum that gives them hands-on experience and, hopefully, a new appreciation for learning.
“Science is taught in three strands,” said teacher Gary Parks of Milford. “The students learn engineering and scientific discovery, and then how to combine the two. They are learning through experimentation and experience.”
And the experiences were non-stop throughout the 120 hours of class time. The students learned about global conservation and animal populations at the Cincinnati Zoo.
“I got to feed a giraffe!” said Jennifer Daugherty of Milford. They waded through creeks – or went “creeking,” as Morgan Stebbin of Deer Park called it – studying the wildlife in that environment.
They studied math concepts at the Great American Ball Park, went behind the scenes at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and planted flowers at the Civic Garden Center. The students learned about the science knowledge used by firefighters, measured skid marks to better understand the physics of crime scene investigation, and conducted experiments to learn what foods contain the most energy.
“We’re really thankful that our district is a part of the Freshman Challenge,” said Superintendent Camille Nasbe of Winton Woods.
“It’s so important that our students are prepared in math and science.”
Why would a Career Center create a program for incoming freshmen, many of whom may never attend classes at Great Oaks?
“Science and math are important, even if a future career isn’t directly involve with those subjects. They are ways to understand and appreciate the world around us,æ said Ann Jordan, who developed the Freshman Challenge five years ago. “Through the Freshman Challenge program, students experience physical science coming alive while strengthening their math skills.”
Jordan also said that the partnership with the University of Cincinnati is critical. The University, which provided labs, instructors, classroom space, and assistance from teachers-in-training through the Woodrow Wilson Fellows program, has supported the Freshman Challenge throughout its entire existence.
“85 percent of careers require a solid foundation in science and math,” said Dr. Nelson Vincent, Associate Dean of the UC College of Education. “For these students, their time spent on campus is their first college experience. Wherever they go after graduation, we hope it won’t be their last college experience.” And Jordan said that seems to be the case. “The students’ experience at UC led many of them to make college a part of their long-term plan,” she said. “Many of these students will be the first generation in their family to attend college.”
And that’s the ultimate goal of the Freshman Challenge – to show students the value of education.
“Think about what you’ve done,” Mt. Healthy assistant principal Lincoln Butts told the students on their final day. “You’re one step closer to graduation than all other freshmen in Ohio. Now, get a diploma. Then get a degree. Use this opportunity you’ve been given.”
That lesson wasn’t lost on the students, said Briannin Smith of Deer Park.
“I came because I wanted to see if I could learn to like science,” she said. “Now I already have high school credits, and I’ll definitely be taking more science classes.”