The nation’s high school graduation rate may be at its highest point in four decades – three out of four students now get a degree. In the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio, however, the number remains grim: just 60 percent of students make it.
McClellan, Robarge and Madison show a group of Chicago students how to build a LED flashlight.
But local teens like Alex Robarge and Frank Madison are bucking the trend. Robarge, a junior at Cleveland’s MC2 STEM High School, has a biomedical engineering internship at Case Western University. He is shadowing a professor and a PhD. student researching next-generation prosthetic limbs. “They are my two mentors,” he says. “I want to be a biomedical engineer.”
Principal Jeff McClellan helped launch MC2 STEM – MC2 stands for Metropolitan Cleveland Consortium – six years ago as a public-private partnership among a group of local organizations and businesses. His goal was to set up a “project-based” school that would teach students the skills to “become leaders for the 21st century.”
Quirky’s Kaufman told the group that he got his first product idea sitting in the back of a math class.
Starting in the ninth grade, the school pairs up students with mentors at local schools and businesses like GE Lighting, Rockwell Automation and the Health Careers Center. Mentors and teachers guide them through a series of 10-week long projects steeped in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math, but also in art and social studies. They work in labs equipped with some of the latest manufacturing technology like 3D printers, laser cutters, ShopBot CNC machines and other advanced tools.
The school is literally all over the place. Ninth grade students take classes at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center, and sophomores study in the former incandescent lighting lab at GE’s historic Nela Park, which GE renovated for the class. Juniors and seniors learn on the Cleveland State University campus. The system gives students exposure to actual research and applied learning. “Who else can say that they go to high school at a Fortune 500 company?” McClellan says.
During their class, Robarge drew an electrical scheme of a simple LED flashlight on a white board
The school’s core principles focus on “mastering your own path,” according a profile by the George Lucas Foundation. They carry “the not-so-subtle implication that students are accountable for getting their work done, and done well enough to meet professional-level requirements,” the story said. Students, of course, receive plenty of support from tutors, mentors and teachers.
The results so far have been astounding. Although MC2 STEM students do not test in and get selected simply through a lottery, 95 percent of them graduate and 84 percent go to college. The school started with 93 students. It now has 350.
Madison helped the Chicago students solder the flashlight parts together.
Junior Frank Madison found out about the school from a former student, applied and got lucky. “I like hands-on learning,” he says. “I wanted a bit more than just book work.” Madison, who likes electronics, says that he wants to become an audio engineer and start his own business.
Last Friday, Madison, Robarge, McClellan, and another student, ninth-grader Whitney Eafford, traveled to the Chicago Ideas Week tech symposium. They met with Ben Kaufman, founder of the open-source design shop Quirky, and taught a manufacturing class to 30 Chicago kids at the GE Garages mobile workshop. Robarge drew an electrical scheme of a simple LED flashlight on a whiteboard and Madison showed the class how to solder it together.
Robarge and Madison, who are perfectionists, said that they should have brought their own tools. The acrylic solder did not stick and the class ran out of time before they completed the project. As a result, the Cleveland team will be spending afternoons in their home lab this week to finish the flashlights. They will mail them back to their class in the Windy City.
The Chicago class at work.