Eyes of the world are on local school's tech

Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 11, 2016

HARRISON, Ohio – Harrison High School's push to integrate more technology into coursework has drawn admirers from six countries to see what they're doing right.

The school's robotics lab, biomedical lab and other high-tech offerings drew educators from India, the Palestinian Territories, Russia, South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago and Tunisia.

They spent Monday morning at the school as part of a U.S. State Department international leadership program designed to highlight best practices in schools across the country. Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council Executive Director Michelle Harpenau said she directed the State Department to Harrison because of the school's many hands-on high tech offerings.

Under the leadership of Principal Davis Baker, Harrison has aggressively expanded its tech offerings, with an emphasis on courses that carry college credit either through Ohio's College Credit Plus program or through Advanced Placement courses.

The schools' 16 AP courses are among the most offered by any Greater Cincinnati high school.

"We're teaching our kids that college is the new high school," Baker told the group.

The whirlwind tour included observing:

• Susan Charl's bio-medical classroom, which featured virtual dissections on a huge touch-screen computer display and multiple devices to measure people's vital signs. It's all used as part of a three-year biomedical program designed for students who are interested in becoming doctors, nurses or medical technicians.

• Tom Pope's engineering and robotics lab, where students are working on yearlong projects like building affordable motorized wheelchairs for young children.


Students show off the robot they're creating in an after-school program in the lab run by Tom Pope, far right, engineering teacher and robotic competition advisor. Photo courtesy of Amy Zwick/Southwest Local Schools.


• Eric Meyer's AP psychology class, where students were compiling videos to link the mental development milestones they read about to their own lives.

• The students' morning TV news production broadcast to the school.

All those computers and other high-tech equipment cost a lot of money, which the Southwest Local Schools district has raised from a combination of sources. The district bought Google Chromebook computers and other laptops using general funds. Great Oaks vocational institute funded the bio-med and engineering/robotic classrooms. An anonymous alumnus landed a $50,000 grant for equipment in the information technology and graphic arts classrooms, and the Potash Co. donated $30,000 for science labs.  

The international visitors were impressed.

Adrian Burger, who creates education videos at Blink Tower video productions in Cape Town, South Africa, was struck by how happy Harrison High School students were to be in school.

"This is a whole other level of enthusiasm than my experience in high school. I remember people being pretty miserable, but these students seem to be enjoying it," Burger said.

Ram Sharma, an associate dean at Shiv Nadar University in India, was impressed by the all of the learning aids that were available to Harrison students and hopes to emulate that level of support in more Indian schools.

"I do see a lot of hunger to learn (in India), but the lack of infrastructure is a problem," Sharma said.

The delegation had previously toured Atlanta's city school district and was headed to San Francisco after visiting Cincinnati.

A busy tour

In addition to the Harrison stop, the group also toured:

  • Cincinnati State
  • Carpe Diem Aiken High School, a charter school sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools
  • Great Oaks Career Center's adult education program* Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics
  • Hughes STEM High School
  • University of Cincinnati's MOOC2Degree online course program
  • Upspring, which helps homeless children receive an education

Sharma thought Ohio schools were behind Atlanta's in their ability to track students who moved from one school to another – one of the big problems that educators believe gets in the way of students performing well and graduating.

Winzy Adams, dean of Bishop Anstey High School in Maraval, Trinidad & Tobago, said that the programs in place at Harrison appeared to make the No Child Left Behind pledge more than just lip-service.

By contrast, she said more than half of students in Trinidad & Tobago are allowed to complete school by passing few or none of the eight graduation exams they can take to move onto good careers.

Baker said after the tour that Harrison works hard to create a culture where students can't fail.

If a student falls behind by four assignments, he is required to attend a two-hour study session on Tuesday nights. If he still doesn't catch up, he's required to attend Saturday school.

Harrison has created freshmen "academies" to keep close tabs on student and make sure that they get off to a good start in high school. The program has succeeded in reducing the number of freshman who failed to advance to sophomore year from 39 four years ago to one this year, Baker said.

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