Educating Oklahoma’s children is a big job. The U.S. Census Bureau reports there are about 954,000 children under the age of 18 living in the state. In the Oklahoma City Public School District alone, there are more than 80 schools and 43,000 students enrolled.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to provide these students with an educational foundation that can prompt success in every area of their lives,” District Spokesperson Mark Myers said.
In recent years, Oklahoma’s education system has been plagued by bad news of poor national standings, low graduation rates and dismal proficiency in math and reading among students. But there are some progressive things happening in Oklahoma City’s education landscape—both inside and outside public school districts—and educators in the state are coming together to equip students to reach full potential.
Here are five innovative things happening in Oklahoma City classrooms:
Odyssey Leadership Academy
The Odyssey Leadership Academy is a private school that was founded in 2014 by Executive Director Scott Martin and a board of directors with the purpose of broadening students education beyond the traditional classroom setting and curriculum.
“We are different from a traditional school in almost every way imaginable,” said English teacher Amanda Kingston.
The academy focuses on identity formation, virtue development and the pursuit of compassion in addition to knowledge.
“We believe in helping students become the person they want to be instead of simply training them to do what they’ve been told is expected of them,” Kingston said. “It’s a different way of thinking but we think it’s a better way of thinking.”
The academy serves students in grades 6 through 12 and the academic year is divided into four terms.
Courses include all basic subjects like math, English, history and science but also focus on subjects like financial management and urban development.
Classes take place in public spaces like Metropolitan Library System’s Downtown Library and at other meeting spots in the downtown area, Kingston said. By not having its own building, school administrators can offer students low tuition fees and spend money that would otherwise go to paying for overhead on student equipment like musical instruments and funding a plethora of field trips students take each academic year.
Fall 2015 semester courses focused on racial reconciliation and students traveled to Memphis, Tenn. and Birmingham, Ala. to visit several historically-significant sites of the American civil rights movement, Kingston said.
“By focusing on real world experiences we believe that students can grapple better with the realities unfolding around them,” she said.
Applicants must apply for admission into the school. To learn more about Odyssey Leadership Academy visit http://www.odysseyleadershipacademy.org/.
The Oklahoma City Public School Innovations K-12 Virtual Institute is an option for many students to receive a quality education without ever stepping foot into a traditional classroom, school counselor June Woodall said. The OKCPS virtual classroom program is one of several available to local students. Students need a laptop, desktop or iPad and internet access. Students must apply to the institute but participation is free for district students.
“Before we admit students into the program, we want to make sure they have the tools to succeed and are serious about their education. We are not an alternative school and we are not a homeschool,” Woodall said. “A lot of our students read at a level higher than traditional classroom students. There is a lot of work that is involved and students need to be responsible self-motivators to achieve it all.”
Sarah Pierson admitted those were characteristics she wasn’t sure her daughter, Jayme, would possess when she withdrew her from her Oklahoma City high school and enrolled her in the Virtual Institute.
“I wasn’t sure if she was up for the challenge,” Sarah Pierson said. “But she’s blown me away. She does well in her classes and I think the discipline she’s had to gain by becoming an independent worker will benefit her when she goes to college.”
Students opt for a virtual school for many reasons, Woodall said. Some are too sick
to consistently be in the classroom, others work to help their families and need to maintain different classroom hours. Others travel too often to attend school regularly. One student, Woodall said, was the daughter of a professional basketball player. Since she travelled often with her family the Virtual Institute was the best educational option
The school runs on the same calendar as the Oklahoma City Public School District, Woodall said. Students have to take the same state mandated exit tests and attend similar classes. Often, the Virtual Institute will provide classes that are not offered elsewhere in the district. This year, Woodall said, a Chinese language course was one of those subjects.
The program has about 100 part-time students and 30 full-time students. Upon completion of 12th grade, students receive diplomas and transcripts and can participate in a graduation ceremony.
Parents understand an important element in educating their children is what they learn at home. The Oklahoma City Public School District has recognized a need to help educate parents throughout Oklahoma City whose first language isn’t English.
Adults within the school district can take advantage of several free English as a Second Language (ESL) and General Educational Development (GED) classes offered at schools throughout the district, Myers said.
“Fifty percent of our families are Spanish-speaking only,” Myers said. “Helping parents learn English means parents will be better able to share in their children’s educational success. They can help their children with their homework and communicate with teachers.”
Other classes that are available for adults within the district include workplace education and family literacy.
To learn more about adult education call executive director of Adult and Community Education, Dr. Ann Allen at 587-1448.
Another key element in educating students through high school in Oklahoma City is making sure they’re prepared for college. The University of Oklahoma K20 Research Center for Educational and Community Renewal recently began a seven-year partnership with the Oklahoma City Public School District to implement a college prep program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP.)
According to Grand Coordinator Jackie Mania-Singer, the program is funded by a federal grant from the Department of Education and is driven by the purpose of preparing and motivating students to pursue a college education.
“When choosing which district to partner with, we try to focus on those that are traditionally underserved,” Mania-Singer said.
Participation in the program has benefited students in multiple ways, Mania-Singer said. So far the students have visited college campuses, sat in on “lunch and learns” with community professionals and attended parent nights where parents learn the ins and outs of college admissions alongside their children.
“This year, the students had the opportunity to stay at OU for three days and two nights to experience what college life is like,” she said. “During the day they attended college classes and during the evenings they explored the campus, learned about the community and discovered college organizations they might want to join in the future.”
The collaboration is just one way school district administrators hope to increase graduation rates and transition into college.
School counselors throughout the district also encourage students to take advantage of Oklahoma Promise, a program that provides students with college tuition waivers if they are Oklahoma residents, enrolled in the 8th, 9th or 10th grades, have a combined family income of less than $50,000 a year and meet certain academic criteria.
To learn more about Oklahoma Promise visit http://www.okhighered.org/okpromise/.
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
Classen School of Advanced Studies is one of only two schools in the state to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, better known as IB.
The non-profit educational program was founded in 1968 and registered in Geneva, Switzerland, but soon expanded to schools in more than 100 countries including the United States.
IB Communications Manager Robin Khan said the program came about in the midst of emerging globalization and technological advancements in an effort to inspire students to think with international focus. The program aims to encourage students to question how science, economics, law and ethics have an impact not just on them but on the international community.
Schools must be authorized by the IB organization to offer any of the specific courses that would otherwise stem from a collaboration, said Principal Ashley Davis, and teachers must be specifically trained to teach IB classes.
Beginning in sixth grade students can apply to participate in the IB program through Classen School of Advanced Studies. If accepted into the program, students are eligible to graduate with program diplomas upon graduating from the 12th grade,
“These students are honor students. For each class they take through the IB program they must pass college level exit exams before moving onto the next higher level class,” Davis said. “It’s a rigorous and challenging program but it’s worth it. There is no question about whether these students will go to college or not.”
An IB diploma not only reflects positively upon students to college admission boards and potential employers but also grants students college credit at some universities, Davis said.
“Right now students with the diploma can automatically receive up to 30 credit hours at The University of Texas and The University of Tulsa,” Davis said. “We are working on making that happen at The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University as well.”
To learn more about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Classen School of Advanced Studies visit http://classenmh.okcps.schooldesk.net/.