Let me guess, exotic animals?

By Carrie Park, Class of 2016

Notes by Shannon Waller, Class of 2016
(A “Synergy” Approach Learned from the Leader in Me)

Highland High School and the Medina Career Center were the hosts for the 2016 Education Day attended by the Leadership Class. Catherine Aukerman, Superintendent of Highland Schools, lead off the event with an overview of Highland’s success story. Aukerman has a lot to crow about in her school system. You would think that her biggest point of pride is the grass-roots funded new football stadium, or possibly having one of the top high schools in America identified by Newsweek. It’s neither of those. Instead, she’s proud of how nice her students are. “If you get lost while you are walking around, just ask a student. We have very nice students.” Principal, Dana Addis, and assistant principal, Carrie Knapp, echoed her praise. “We have the nicest students.”

Who did they think they were fooling? We all know what high schoolers are like: hoodie-clad, non-stop texting, selfie obsessed, cost centers. But here’s the kicker: the kids really were nice!

The Leadership Class broke off into groups and attended a variety of classes. Some went to AP Physics, History, Orchestra, and others attended Spanish, Honors English and Biology. The common theme running through all the classes? Industrious Order. Students were attentive and engaged. In one English class, students compared Go Set A Watchman with To Kill A Mockingbird by using a “Students Teaching Students” technique. The class was divided into groups and each group took charge of presenting a specific chapter. They questioned and called on their fellow classmates:
Student 1: “I’m wondering if anyone knows what “quibble” means on page 74”
Student 2: “It means a small argument.”
Student 1: “Very good.”

The teacher monitored minimally or interjected a teachable moment when it was needed. The methodology was not surprising considering the ownership the students were expected to take for their learning was the same ownership the administration expects from its teachers.

Addis and Knapp literally got the ball rolling at the start of the school year and inspired their staff with a phenomenal presentation using a baseball analogy. In the same way, they challenged Leadership Class members to channel their inner Rickey Henderson (most successful leadoff hitter) and come up with their own “leadoff activities.” Defined as things that are the smallest, least expensive activities that make a positive difference in the work environment, the class responded with suggestions ranging from simply greeting customers with a smile to Mark Priebe’s “Awkward Lunch” program that chooses two people randomly and sends them to lunch together on the company dime. Oh yes, you should ask him about it.

Highland’s efforts to “make the best better” this year have inspired everyone from the youngest Kindergartener to the oldest staff member (and we’re not naming names). The administration uses surveys and annual goal setting worksheets to encourage everyone to look at their “yeartential” as opposed to their “potential.” Goal setting is not taken lightly, and factors like attainability, metrics, and specific actions are required of individuals as they map out their paths to success.

The morning ended with a special presentation by teachers and students from the Sharon Elementary Lighthouse Committee who introduced us to the new “Leader in Me” program. Created by Steven Covey, the system integrates leadership into daily activities so every student can set and achieve meaningful goals. Schools who have embraced this program have seen elevated student achievement, decreased student discipline issues, and raised parent involvement and satisfaction. Our pint-sized student presenters of the K through 5 variety walked us through the “7 Habits” of the program and were shining examples of the next group Aukerman will be bragging about.

The second half of the day was no less impressive as the Class was treated to a catered lunch at the Career Center’s Center Café. The students served us a fresh garden salad, chicken over saffron rice and a creamy mocha trifle. Everything was professionally served and plated. Gordon Ramsey, lookout!

After lunch, the Class toured the Center. Let me set the record straight: this is not your parent’s Career Center. If you’re thinking Shop or Home-Ec, you have you got the wrong millennium. To begin with, this place is massive. Behind every door is a different world of opportunities. Want to be a firefighter or EMT? They have a real fire truck and a slew of stretchers. Want to be a nurse? There’s a mock hospital that has everything from an intake room to a surgical theater with instruments. How about a career in optical? Head to the Bright Eyedeas Optical Clinic.  See what they did there: Eye…deas? The Construction Trades room that has more barn frames being raised than Holmes County, and an HVAC room has more ducts than a dynasty. Want to see semi trucks up on hoists? They have them. Want to get a leg up on your sports medicine degree? There’s a workout room for you. Need a manicure? The Today’s Image Salon trains pre-professionals and offers $6 manicures and $10 shellacs. Perhaps you want C++ computer certification? Join the IT Academy. Maybe you want to learn how to use a 3-D printer. Or perhaps you’ve been dying to try the cutting edge Mimaki printer. It’s all there. Getting a tour of this facility is nothing short of experiencing the different lands at Disney World for the first time. Nuclear Fusionland? It’s behind the Video Production Studio (the same one that students used to write, produce and direct the movie, Jessie, which earned a spot at Hollywood’s International Film Festival).

What this means for students is that their real experience turns into real future income. While 86% of Career Center students go directly to post secondary opportunities, including associate and four year college programs, others choose to go directly into the work force or military where they are prized for their incoming knowledge and high potential. No matter which route they choose, 100% receive the same high school diploma given out by their local high schools and they walk through with their fellow seniors when they graduate.

Career Center programs are competitive and there are waiting lists when the classes fill past the 25 available spots. Only the best are accepted and students have to maintain good grades in their regular high school classes while learning the craft of their choice.

“I’d love to take you to the other building but there just isn’t time,” our guide apologized as we neared the end of our day.

This was hard to believe since we had been on a veritable jog throughout the facility for the past two hours. She pointed out the window to what looked like a professional greenhouse. “It houses the horticultural and outdoor science program, power equipment and technology and…”

“Let me guess. Exotic animals?”

“No, but we have an early childhood education program with real preschoolers.”

“That’s exotic enough for me.”

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