By DENISE DICK
Rayen Early College Middle School uses high expectations for students to garner high academic marks and to encourage them to adopt a college mindset at an early age.
The middle school, which was established to become a feeder school for Youngstown Early College, houses about 160 students in grades six through eight.
This year, it was recognized for improvement in English language arts, mathematics and science curricula by Making Middle Grades Work, an initiative of the Southern Regional Education Board aimed at preparing students to succeed in high school.
Ashlee Cline, a guidance counselor at REC, credits the culture of high expectations at the school — both for grades and behavior.
That’s something eighth graders Sonya Lenoir, Zach Rogers and Keith Ellison and sixth-grader Cameryn Stevenson can attest to.
They say those expectations start with Principal Deborah DiFranceso — Ms. D to the students.
“She has high expectations and zero tolerance,” Keith, 13, said.
Zach, 14, said the principal expects more of REC students than perhaps some other principals expect of students at other schools.
“We’re expected to learn and excel,” Sonya, 13, explained.
“If we came into this school, we’re the more advanced students,” added Cameryn, 13. “If we’re more advanced, more is expected of us.”
“It’s a privilege to be here,” Sonya continued.
To enroll at REC, students must earn a minimum 400 on the fourth-grade standardized test, secure a teacher recommendation and demonstrate good
elementary-school attendance with minimal discipline. They also must go through an interview process.
For the first time last year, that interview process included eighth-graders at the school, who sat in on interviews of prospective new students. DiFrancesco said it went well and will continue this year.
The inclusion of students in the interview process grew out of the school’s participation in Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations program. It’s designed to improve academics by improving school climates and student attitudes about school.
Youngstown Early College is the school district’s collaboration with Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College that allows students to earn an associate’s degree by the time they graduate from high school. To align more with YEC, the REC
implemented changes this year to gear up students to think more about college.
For example, homework for all classes is due at the beginning of the day. That means no finishing it at breakfast, lunch or between classes. That started at the beginning of the school year for eighth-graders and will be phased in for seventh- and sixth-graders.
Last year, the Rayen Foundation funded a trip for eighth-graders to Washington, D.C., that included stops at American University, Howard University and the University of Maryland.
The trip occurred during spring break, and DiFrancesco said parents gathered to see their children off, some in tears that their sons and daughters were able to enjoy an opportunity never afforded to them.
“That made my whole break,” the principal said.
Many REC students would be the first in their family to attend college.
“Definitely the first generation to go away” to college, DiFranceso said.
During the summer, the Rayen Foundation paid for a trip to Camp Fitch where REC’s leadership team took classes in note-taking, public
speaking, organizational skills and team building that will be useful in college. The trip included a visit to a university in Buffalo, N.Y.
This year, the entire eighth-grade class will visit colleges in the Philadelphia area with the foundation paying the bill.
Cline said another change is the use of grade-point
averages. This year, the school will inform students of not only the grades they earned, but the GPA that results.
“It’s getting them into the college mindset,” she said.
It helps students understand that every grade counts.- See more at: http://www.vindy.com/news/2014/oct/26/high-achieving-youngstown-students-take-college-de/#sthash.hadVCJbE.dpuf