While our school list gives you great information on the raw numbers of local schools, sometimes greatness can’t be measured. That’s why we looked at three programs offered by schools to find out what they’re doing to help students be prepared for future learning and careers. Read on to learn about what local schools are doing that may not be reflected in test scores, but will certainly help students later in life. 

Oak Hills High School
Oak Hills Local School District

Oak Hills is on the cutting edge of education with an innovative new Advanced Placement (AP) program from the College Board. 

The AP Capstone program is built on two classes—the AP Seminar and the AP Research course—that develop research, presentation and critical thinking skills. 

Oak Hills implemented the program in the 2015-16 school year, and the College Board, which oversees all national AP classes, developed it.

The College Board chose Oak Hills as a part of the pilot program of the AP Capstone Course. Eight schools in Ohio and five in the Cincinnati area offer the program, according to the College Board website.

“We saw this as one more opportunity to give to our students,” says Oak Hills High School Principal John Stoddard.

Students in the AP Seminar course learn to creatively research and form complex arguments about real-world issues individually and in groups. 

“They really have to be able to look at a topic or an issue and think outside the box and be able to problem solve and defend their arguments,” says Benjamin Hageman, co-chair of the English department and AP Seminar teacher. 

Students learn critical thinking, research, and oral and writing skills that are valuable for the rest of their academic careers in high school and college. Students also learn to meet real-world deadlines and handle college-level workloads. 

“I’m confident that kids that have made it through this class will have a leg up as they go into other AP courses and as they head into college,” says Hageman.

While the course does emphasize reading and writing skills, students also delve into other subjects such as math, science and history when examining real-world issues.

Although teachers introduce general topics to debate and research, students pick specific areas of interest to write about and study further.

“A lot of the kids were excited to pick what interested them,” says AP Seminar teacher Amanda Biser.

Biser says student projects covered topics such as euthanasia, global warming and the politics surrounding the current presidential race.

Students may take the AP Research class once they have completed the Seminar class, where they embark on an individual yearlong research project that culminates in an academic paper or oral presentation.

Both classes end with an AP exam. If the student scores a 3 or higher, they may earn college credit.

Stoddard says 83 students took the AP Seminar course in its first year, offered through the English department. This is compared to 99 students in the AP Language and Composition Course, and 118 students that took AP Literature and Composition.

In the upcoming 2016-17 school year, 78 students have signed up for the AP Seminar class.

The AP Seminar class is geared towards sophomores, although it is open for juniors. Stoddard says he hopes this will expose more sophomores to an AP course so they would be likely to take more as an upperclassman.

Oak Hills may keep its optional traditional capstone class as an alternative to the AP Capstone, or it may replace it, Stoddard says. The future of the two capstone programs depends on the quality of student work. 

- Laura Fitzgerald

Clark Montessori High School
Cincinnati Public Schools

With a mission to discuss different lifestyles and teach basic cooking and gardening skills, Clark Montessori High School’s Vegan Club offers educational opportunities outside the classroom. Members of the club say people join because it is diverse in the opportunities it offers.

“I’ve always had an interest in animals, Veganism and gardening in general and I thought it would be a good way to further enter into Veganism,” says Fauna Jackson, president of the Vegan Club.

For the past six years the garden has been active with intermittent use until three years ago when the club started to use it. The Vegan Club has been meeting on Clark’s rooftop garden, tending to the produce and plants growing there and planting things around their needs like blackberry bushes, lettuce, cucumbers, sunflowers and melons.

The students are able to attend to the garden year round because of the greenhouse installed in the garden this past August. On average, students work in the garden about twice a week.

“We can come in during lunch time or after school. It really just depends when people want to go out there and work on it,” says Jackson. Students who are not in the Vegan Club also have the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the garden. 

“At Clark you have to have 200 community service hours [for all four years]. So, students can go out there and work in the garden and get community service hours for that,” says Jackson. 

A majority of the food from the garden is used weekly during the Vegan Club meetings. “So, we did this thing kind of based off Chopped, the TV show, where there were two groups and each had the same recipe. We both cook the recipe and people say which one they like better,” says Jackson.

Chad Vahue, the advisor of the Vegan Club, would include staple ingredients for the Chopped cooking challenges so students were able to take their recipe in any route they wanted. Students who are new to the group are often taught basic cooking skills, like how to handle a chef’s knife, and beginner recipes like guacamole, French fries and flour tortillas. More experienced students who came more frequently were often team leaders during the challenges. 

This allows the students to learn basic cooking skills and even more advanced cooking skills to take with them after graduation. When the Vegan Club is not cooking they are discussing different aspects of Veganism: why someone would become Vegan, the pros and cons of Veganism and why we eat the food we eat. 

- Jessica Darling

St. Cecilia School

St. Cecilia in Oakley, which has been educating local children since 1913, will be adapting to a new form of learning through technology starting in the 2016-2017 school year. 

The school was awarded a $500,000 grant through Seton Education Partners, a nonprofit organization that is committed to reviving and expanding opportunities for children in urban locations to receive an excellent academic and Catholic education. The half million dollars will go toward a nationally recognized program called the Blended Learning Initiative for the upcoming school year. 

“This program will allow our school to utilize technology to benefit both our students and teachers,” says Principal Michael Goedde. “It will place emphasis on the interplay between personalized software and data-driven, small group instruction.” With new ChromeBook computers, technology infrastructure, digital content and training for the teachers and staff, St. Cecilia is soon to become one of a dozen schools in the nation to have this program. 

Kristin Vogt, reading specialist for K-2 students, was hesitant when first introduced to blended learning at St. Cecilia. “Imagining 25 kindergartners on computers really freaked me out at first,” says Vogt. “But in the end, it will really be beneficial for our students and provide skills they need and excel in further areas.” 

Vogt says that the format of the software programs will resemble a game for the kids using it. She says it will guide them through different questions, yet make it fun and enjoyable in the end. “Overall, blended learning will help us aid in their reading abilities and allow us to catch problems early on.”

Seton Education Partners provides a full-time, on-site manager for the blended learning program to help introduce and manage the program at each school. However, their role will in no way alter the teachers’ positions. “Nothing about this program is going to take away the role of the teacher,” says Goedde. “I am confident we have the staff to implement this blended learning program. They are young, energetic and have the experience to make it successful.”

While the teachers and staff at the school will be given eight to 10 professional development days for training, students will be given a baseline to see where they are in their academic progress before the school year starts.

St. Cecilia’s classrooms will be on a rotating schedule that uses a mixture of the interactive and personalized software programs along with small-group instruction. Each of the grade levels, kindergarten through eighth grade, will receive different software pertaining to each grade’s learning material. However, the software is individualized for more than just each grade level but also to every individual student’s needs, struggling or excelling. 

Goedde says that St. Cecilia will now have better resources to meet the needs of the students. He says the program allows for transparency of each child’s learning process and development and is confident that both parents and students will be satisfied with this change. 

“I think investing in our school and providing a quality education, especially making it individualized, will be attractive to all families in the area,” say Goedde. 

- Morgan Batanian