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2 high schools graduate first seniors

Bard graduation
Two CMSD high schools are saying goodbye to their first seniors. 
Bard High School Early College Cleveland held graduation May 16, while Facing History New Tech’s commencement is set for June 1. Each of the high schools brings unique features to a growing portfolio of new school models, designed to let District students and families choose the right fit.

Bard allows students to earn both a CMSD diploma and college associate’s degree in four years. It is operated in partnership with Bard College of New York, which has five such high schools in the United States.

Facing History New Tech High School teaches the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum, which emphasizes social justice, civil rights and tolerance. Lessons are learned through the project-based learning style of the New Tech Network.

The graduating classes at both schools are small, but much larger groups are in the pipeline.

Bard graduated 15 seniors. Bard College President Leon Bottstein participated in the ceremony and along with faculty dressed in full academic regalia.

The class was made up of pioneers who took a risk and entered the program as juniors when BHSEC opened two years ago.

This year’s ninth- and 10th grades, the first admitted as freshmen, reached a maximum size of more than 100. Many more applicants were put on waiting lists.

The younger students will get the benefit of the full program, which integrates coursework so students take a seamless path to both the diploma and degree. What students need to know in their college courses, they learn in their high school classes.

“The first two years prepare you for that college experience,” said Dumaine Williams, BHSEC’s head of school. “We’re gearing up to the point of seeing what that full-scale college program looks like.”

Bard is among a handful of CMSD schools with admissions criteria. The school interviews students, not necessarily for grade-point averages but for evidence that they possess the passion to take on rigorous instruction.

Graduating senior Jeheil Eli Bereto, who spoke at commencement, moved to Cleveland from Puerto Rico several years ago and will return there to study software engineering at the University of Puerto Rico. He welcomed the chance to earn his associate’s degree tuition free and said the faculty members, all certified to work in higher education, prepared him well for what awaits.

“They definitely challenged me,” said Bereto, whose first name is pronounced Jay-el. “They want you to have that college mindset. They want you to experience new ideas.”

Bard 10th-grader Bailey Wright watched her sister Cali walk the stage at Severance Hall. Bailey, who will be part of the school’s first four-year class, said Bard and its teachers are giving her a “bigger chance” in life.

“Not only do you get a diploma and an associate’s degree, you meet people who teach us more than school lessons,” she said. “You’re always being pushed. You’re always being told you can do better.”

Facing History New Tech began with ninth-graders in 2012 and added one more level each year.

The school will graduate 38 seniors, 95 percent of the class. All the graduates are headed for college or other post-secondary education.

But FHNT had 100 freshmen this school year. More than 120 students are signed up for the incoming class, and total enrollment is expected to reach nearly 400. The ultimate goal is to have 400 to 500.

Principal Marc Engoglia said the school has built a culture on the belief that an individual’s actions matter and that everything a person does affects someone else. Students take a strong role in planning programs, which include a yearly human rights summit.

The school’s focus is more than a philosophy or class; it is practice, Engoglia said. He contributes by limiting suspensions and letting students talk out their differences.

Senior Skyler Edge was in the spotlight last year when his film “House, Not Home,” a fictional story of a transgender teen, premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Skyler, a transgender teen himself, said support and acceptance from staff and students at FHNT had given him the confidence to come out and be himself.

Seniors Adrian Busch and Autumn Sherrard praised the school climate. Sherrard said student-led mediation typically resolves any problems that occur.

“Coming here, I think, made me a better person,” Adrian said. “I feel more strongly about certain things, like bullying.”

Facing History has increased enrollment through aggressive recruiting. But Engoglia believes the school also has become known as a welcoming place.

“I think the word has spread that your kid can be different here and not be labeled,” he said.