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Milestone for Canton City Schools, community: First Early College High School class graduates

Loading multimedia... photo / Stan Myers
Seniors in Canton City Schools’ Early College High School program take their final exams. The first class graduates from Early College and Stark State College of Technology Sunday. Pictured here are: (front left) Rebecca Belding, Tory Shepard; (rear left) Kieran Suminski, Renee Montgomery.
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Posted May 15, 2009 @ 09:18 PM


Emmanuel Grimsley was 5 when he lived with his grandmother for awhile.

His single mom worked 12-hour days in a factory to provide for her family. What Emmanuel remembers most is reading books with his grandmother, Vivian Grimsley, putting together puzzles and talking to her about college.

“She told me it was good to get an education, that is how I am going to get ahead,” said Emmanuel, now 17.

He remembered that advice entering high school, where he faced a fork in the road. He could play football at McKinley High or enroll in a new school, Early College High School, which, at the time, was open only to Timken High students.

He tucked away his longing to wear the Bulldog red and black and armed himself with a dream: Graduate not just with a high school diploma but also an associate’s degree from Stark State College of Technology.

Sunday, that dream becomes a reality. as Emmanuel receives a college degree — the first in his immediate family to do so.

With more than 30 classmates, Emmanuel graduates Sunday with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at Stark State’s commencement ceremony at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.

Many say the students’ accomplishments represent a milestone that’s bigger than their individual achievement. It’s a milestone for not just the Canton City School District, but also the community.


In 2002, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Early College initiative, creating a new kind of school in which low-income and first-generation college-going students could earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.

Canton’s Early College High School program emerged in 2005 as a partnership between Canton City Schools, Stark State, Stark Education Partnership and the Canton Professional Educators Association (CPEA). Partial funding was provided by the Gates Foundation, through the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and by the Ohio Department of Education.

Canton is one of just nine early colleges in the state. Nationwide, there are about 200 such schools.

According to the Stark Education Partnership, Canton students are outperforming the national average for early colleges. Cumulative results show students have accrued more than 5,000 hours of earned college credit at an average GPA of 2.54.

Stark Partnership’s Dr. Adrienne O’Neill attributes Canton’s success, in part, to its unique teaching team, which consists of both seasoned high school teachers and Stark State college professors.

Debbie Turner has taught English for the past four years at Early College. She said she enjoys working with college instructors.

“It’s a wonderful exchange,” said Turner, who has taught in the Canton district for 20 years. “A lot of the professors come in with no experience teaching adolescents. They learn quickly you can’t stand up there and be a talking head; you have to make everything relatable.”

Pam Jackson, CPEA president, said the school is successful because of the team-teaching partnerships. In fact, Jackson wishes the program could be replicated — but there’s not enough money.

“What the program says to all of our students is that college is a possibility,” she said. “It says we can increase the rigor, and our students can achieve it. Now, if every high school student was given the opportunity, it would be priceless.”

Some graduating seniors, including Emmanuel Grimsley, named Turner their most influential teacher.

“Mrs. Turner always wanted us to succeed,” said Emmanuel, who acknowledged he wasn’t always the easiest student to get along with. A “button pusher,” Emmanuel once began a petition to get a former Early College principal ousted.

And Turner said her strict, no-nonsense style isn’t always popular with students.

“I have very high standards for these kids, and I push them because I know they can reach those goals,” she said. “Each one of the students is like my own child, and I treat them how I’d want my children to be treated.”


Early College’s inaugural class has big dreams, ranging from nursing to anthropology.

Michael Bucklew is No. 1 in the class. He’ll graduate with his Associate’s Degree of Technical Studies, with an electro-mechanical engineering technology track.

For as long as the 17-year-old can remember, he’s wanted to work with NASA to develop space shuttles.

“You learn quickly excuses don’t fly,” Bucklew said of the Early College environment. “They treat you like you are going to college. When an assignment is due, it’s due.”

Perspective students “need to realize it’s not going to be given to them,” he said. “Work is the only thing that will get you there, that will get you that degree.”

Cierra Gholston knows that well. She’ll graduate with her high school diploma, but she won’t receive her associate’s degree — yet. Cierra and 27 of her classmates will graduate with between 21 and 59 earned college-credit hours.

“I’m going to get there,” the 18-year-old said.

At first, Cierra was hesitant. She didn’t want to enroll in Early College. But her mother, Tina Gholston, insisted.

“We pushed. We pushed. And we pushed,” Tina Gholston said. “But she’s here. And she’ll finish. Once these kids get through the program, they are so much farther ahead because of it.”

Dr. John O’Donnell, president of Stark State, said Sunday’s graduates now becomes ambassadors.

“As they travel off with their goals and aspirations to four-year colleges around Ohio and the country, they carry with them a wonderful picture of the talents and character of young adults from the city of Canton,” he said.

Emmanuel Grimsley is one. Soon after removing his black cap and gown, he’ll put on a U.S. Marine Corps uniform. He’s enlisted for four years, and he plans to go to college for his bachelor’s degree following his term.

“It feels weird,” Emmanuel said with a smile, still struggling to grasp the weight of his accomplishment. “But, it makes me feel really proud.”

Early College High School, 34 candidates
WHAT  Commencement
WHEN  2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE  Canton Memorial Civic Center
DIPLOMAS  Graduates will receive two-year associate’s degree from Stark State College of Technology. They will receive their high school diplomas along with the rest of the Canton City Schools’ class of 2009 next month.
TIMKEN  June 3, 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.
McKINLEY  June 4, 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.

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