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Early College Is the Right Fit for Dayton Students

Dayton Early College Academy students learning science.

Recently, Jobs for the Future sat down with Principal Crystal L. Phillips from Paul Laurence Dunbar Early College High School in Dayton, Ohio, and asked her what makes her school special.

Engaging Traditionally Underserved Students

Dunbar High School was the first school of its kind in the city of Dayton, Ohio, originally created for African-American students, and that tradition continues today. Tradition is an integral part of Paul Laurence Dunbar Early College High School, where students join a large alumni association that includes Phillips herself, who graduated in 1991. Principal Crystal Phillips’ near 20 years in education, 10 of which she spent as a truancy officer, opened her eyes to the number of students schools were losing. “That’s something I’m still cognizant of,” Phillips said. “It’s something I try to keep from happening.”

For Phillips, it is all about helping students find their fit. She said, “once you help a student find their niche and get hooked in, then we can work with the rest and keep them at school and engaged.” Students at Dunbar have many options to find that niche. The school offers many different afterschool programs that provide a range of activities from geocaching, to fashion, and spoken word that keep students engaged in the learning experience and eager to go to school.

Early College at Dunbar: Changing School Climate, Changing Mindsets

Part of Phillip’s work as principal lies in connecting students to college and starting that awareness early. Classes at Dunbar are broken into pods named after different colleges, and homerooms investigate their college and see what is offered there. “Students start having that college conversation early,” Phillips explained. Beginning the process early with first-year students raises students’ academic rigor and their interest in higher education.

At Dunbar, the early college program immerses many students in a college experience who would not otherwise seek out information on their own, or have access people they know with college-going experience. “The early college culture bridges high school to college. It exposes students to what postsecondary education is, and gives them confidence to say, ‘This is what I can do.’” Phillips acknowledges that, while skill level is sometimes a barrier that prevents students from moving to postsecondary education, it’s most often this basic knowledge and confidence that poses the greatest barrier. Soon, students who were taking college courses within the high school will be going on campus instead. This will further add to their ability to see themselves as potential college students.

Phillips described what makes Dunbar unique, “It’s a positive school climate. Students feel good about themselves, and teachers are empowering. We help kids toward a change in mindset, where they think about school and how it can help them in life.” Early college opportunities include:

  • Students receive targeted homework help and ACT/SAT preparation.
  • Students attend a summer program on college campuses, where they get paid but also build skills and complete schoolwork.
  • Students attend field trips to college campuses where they can see science labs and other parts of campus. “They learn that college is not an island—there is writing and science support there as well,” Phillips said.

For districts considering early college designs, Phillips stresses that a postsecondary partner is the key (Dunbar works with the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College). She said, “our grant came from that partnership. Community colleges and universities are looking to pair with high schools, and there are funds available.” The current legislative climate supports this type of work.

Many thanks to Principal Phillips for sharing her knowledge and experience with Jobs for the Future! Visit Dunbar Early College High School online at daytondunbar.org.

Photograph courtesy Dayton Early College Academy, 2012