Tri-County looks at options for every student

By LINDA HALL Staff Writer Published:

One size doesn't fit all in education -- a concept triggering Tri-County Educational Service Center's role in developing alternative academic programs or community schools for students who don't conform to the traditional mold.

Ed Swartz, Tri-County ESC's interim superintendent, said the International Baccalaureate program, housed at Wooster High School, has "turned a corner" and is "doing exceptionally well."

The school has a waiting list for next year, Swartz said, adding, as he has been a part of conversations with educators around the state, "More and more are talking about IB."

The program is open to students in Wayne, Holmes and Ashland counties.

"There is a great deal of testing that is expected" within the highly academically rigorous curriculum, Swartz acknowledged, but "the rewards for students are huge."

One of two financial benefits highlighted in an IB flier was "many universities now exempt an IB graduate's first year of college studies," Swartz said. Secondly, "13 students from the graduating class of 2011 were collectively granted more than $1 million in college scholarships."

The IB program is demonstrating it serves a "big need," Rich Bellanco, the head of International Academy, said. It has been attracting even those students who must "make a long trip to Wooster every day."

The Wooster area itself has shown greater interest than ever before, Bellanco said, probably because of an evolving philosophy in the Wooster High School science department to increase rigor earlier. Sophomores taking advanced placement biology for the first time will be candidates for next year's junior IB class, he said.

Melanie Vinion, who teaches advanced placement biology to high school students and teaches science in the IB academy, "is looking at least doubling (from seven Wooster students in the academy) the number of applicants," Bellanco said.

He is hoping districts that have not sent students or pushed the program in their high schools will begin to do so.

Swartz's highlight of Beacon Hill Community School included a reference to the Southeast Local Schools board, which is "very positive (about the school)."

However, with the exception of the treasurer's role, the school is no longer sponsored by the Southeast District, but by Tri-County.

Tri-County anticipates an increase in ninth- through 12th-grade students, who are "largely served by eLearning," Swartz said, although "not totally," calling e-learning "the wave of the future. It has proven to be an effective, economic way of providing education, literally without borders."

Swartz said he sees Beacon Hill as "probably a growing program as we move toward the future."

The Wayne County Discipline Center, an out-of-school suspension alternative in which students continue working on assignments from their home school, has moved into the lower level of Tri-County ESC, Swartz said, and the cost of operation could be reduced.

A similar program is running in Ashland County "in the same complex as ACCA," he said, the Ashland County Community Academy operating for at-risk students.

Last year, the Ashland program -- operating as a school district of its own, sponsored by Tri-County ESC, with an independent board and different set of rules -- admitted 96 students; this year, 117, he said. "It's working."

While IB students tend to be the "most (academically) aggressive students," Bellanco said, at the other end of the spectrum, in ACCA, are "the less aggressive toward getting an education."

The academic program "has to be adapted into a different look for that type of student," such as providing online access to augment their limited credits, Bellanco said.

Another alternative program, similar to that of ACCA, is in the planning stages, Swartz said, but centered in the area of Wayne and Holmes counties.

"There are some really neat ideas (that) could impact a number of our districts," Swartz told the board at a recent meeting, for example, by looking into whether a proposed new program could serve the needs of students with Asberger's disorder or autism.

Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at 330-264-1125, Ext. 2230, or lhall@the-daily-record.com.

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