Safety at the Early College Alliance @ EMU

For the past Candlesfew weeks, my thoughts–along with many of yours–have frequently turned to the issue of safety in our schools. With yet another horrific mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago, and then the killing of his parents by a student on the campus of Central Michigan University just last Friday, my heart is heavy. The safety of our young people–on and off school campuses–is so critically important, and should be the highest priority in all areas of our society.
Events like this, even when viewed from a distance, can lead to feelings of fear and unease–wondering if something like this could happen in our community. In light of these events, I want to share with you some of the current and planned safety measures that the ECA and EMU employ. I will also explain possible student-led responses to these events that may take place on or near our campus.

Eastern Michigan University Supports

Because EMU manages our physical campus, emergency procedures and public safety are handled by them. Proactive measures and student supports at EMU are also in place to help prevent critical incidents on campus.

Even before the era of mass shootings in schools, campus safety was an issue. Long ago as an undergraduate student at EMU in the 1990s, I participated in Take Back the Night protests against sexual violence and in favor of improving security on campus. A terrible on-campus crime in 2006 led to federal oversight of EMU’s systems and policies, and many changes were implemented as a result of lessons learned over that time period. By the time I returned to campus 10 years ago to work at the ECA, it was obvious that safety and security had taken on new urgency on campus.
We are extremely fortunate to be on a campus with a resident police department. Our EMU police officers are deputized on campus and in the surrounding areas. DPS manages the SEEUS escort service and monitors both the blue safety lights with emergency call buttons and the video cameras installed all over campus. Text and email alerts keep students and families aware of incidents that take place on or near campus (CLICK HERE to sign up for alerts).
The Department of Public Safety at EMU is seen and their support is felt by our staff and students–not only in formal presentations such as the Safety and Security CLICK activity and the Back to School Kickoff, but also in informal interactions as they patrol our campus. Our staff has undergone ALICE active shooter training, courtesy of the police department, and students will have the opportunity to sign up for this training in the next few months (see below for more information).
Preventing critical incidents on campus also happens in the college classrooms, where teachers and professors have many more interactions with students. EMU instructors (and ECA teachers, too) can submit a Care Report to report concerns about students who may be experiencing distress. The Student Intervention Team is comprised of members representing various EMU departments, including Counseling and Psychological Services, DPS, and others. The SIT monitors Care Reports and follows through to help prevent emergencies.

ECA Supports

The Early College Alliance adds to EMU’s critical incident prevention plan by creating a positive school culture and a supportive, communicative school climate. Our model necessitates strong and supportive relationships between staff and students. This is one of our values, in fact, and may not seem like a security measure. However, the 2013 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines for developing school emergency plans specifically recommends this focus: “A positive school climate that provides students with ready access to emotional and behavioral supports can affect the capacity of students and staff to prevent, respond to, and recover from emergencies” (p. 54).
Our educators’ job descriptions include being very attuned to individual student needs, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. This helps to identify and support students who may be struggling and/or at risk. As we have found the need for social and emotional support has increased, we have added more staff, including a social worker who is an excellent support across our WEOC programs this year. Providing our teachers and other staff with the time and skills needed for true staff-family-student relationships to develop is an investment that we are committed to, and we believe it is worth making.
Over the next few months, EMU’s police department (DPS) will be holding ALICE training sessions for our students. You (or your student) may have experienced similar “active shooter” instruction in your prior school experiences (see the recent Vox ARTICLE, “This is America: 9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students,” discusses what has become a sad reality for most of our kids). This type of training can be emotionally intense for any person–students and adults, and it is not required. However, the EMU officials that conduct the training will work with us to take into consideration the developmental needs of our somewhat younger students. We do feel that it is important to provide the opportunity to learn about recommended responses to the unthinkable situation involving an active shooter on campus. You can see an overview of the training on the DPS website.
Next, I would ask students to continue doing what you usually already do: “If you see something, say something.” If you don’t feel comfortable telling adults at school about something you see that you think should be reported, please use “OK2SAY,” a tipline that has already saved lives. The OK2SAY website explains the program best:
OK2SAY is designed to encourage Michigan students to share and respond to anything that threatens their safety or the safety of others. Students can confidentially submit tips 24/7 using the OK2SAY app, online (, texting 652729 (OK2SAY),   email (, or by calling 8-555-OK2SAY. In just two years, OK2SAY has received nearly 5,000 tips. The program has helped thousands of Michigan students get the support they need because students stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe. Everyone has the opportunity to make a positive difference. Stand up, speak out, and make a difference with OK2SAY. #OK2SAY.

Moral Courage

Finally, I am gratified and inspired by the incredible moral courage of the young people all over this country who have organized and spoken out against school violence and mass shootings. Teenagers are leading our country in demanding action–asking tough questions of the adults, and showing us how to grieve with purpose. Students are 0505-wear-organge-LPplanning Walk-Outs in many high schools (and middle schools) nationwide for Wednesday, March 14 at 10am. Some ECA students have approached me about this and will be sharing a student-led plan to take place on our campus for those who are interested in being part of this moment. It is not yet clear how widespread interest in this activity will be among ECA students in our high school classes; students who do not wish to take part in the walk-out will simply remain in the classroom. There will be staff supervision in the classrooms and alongside any walk-out, which is expected to last about 20 minutes. Lauren Slagter’s recent MLive article about the planned student-led activities provides some additional context about student protests.
There is an off-campus rally that is taking shape during the school day at a different local high school (YCHS). While I have said that I support student voice and civic engagement, our primary goal for students at all times is safety. As this external event is not a school-sponsored event, I cannot speak to the type of supervision or support that will be in place there. I want to stress to our students and families that leaving our campus when school is in session requires parent permission (parent participation is also recommended), and will result in an absence. Similarly, non-attendance in any EMU class should be carefully considered (whether for the on- or off-campus walk-out).
School safety is an issue that schools and school leaders care a LOT about. I believe that priorities for school safety must include common-sense gun control legislation and improving mental health services. Priorities should not include bringing more guns into schools. We CAN solve this problem, but it will require legislative support and appropriate funding. To find your representative and tell them how you feel about the issue,  click here. To find your senator, click here. Governor Snyder’s information can be found on his website.

Mindset Matters: Review Day Reminders

At the Early College Alliance @ EMU, we carve out three days each fall and winter semester to talk with each other–in a LONG staff meeting–about every student taking our high school classes. These “Soft Skills” meetings are marathon sessions that we have developed into something of an art form, involving a special setting, norms totally unique to this meeting structure, rotating roles (including “lunch captain”), and an absolutely intense commitment to each individual student.

Startup Stock Photos
Images from

At the meeting, each student’s name is called, one by one. The CORE Advisor takes notes and asks questions as each teacher gives a synopsis of the student’s strengths and areas for improvement, and, for students in their Credentialing Year (10th/11th grades), a Soft Skills Credential is recorded. As the principal, I listen closely, taking my own notes and getting a sense of how each student is doing so far in the program.  

The basic purpose of the first of these meetings for students in their Credentialing Year is to provide that initial “soft skills credential” for each student in each class. The credential indicates what progress the student is making in terms of his or her readiness for college course-taking, and comes in the form of a letter: U for “unsatisfactory,” N for “needs improvement,” and S for “satisfactory.” At the 2-day Credentialing meeting that comes later in the term, a fourth credential is added: R for “recommended,” awarded if a student is deemed academically proficient and soft skills ready for enrollment in a college class for the next semester.

Review Day comes six weeks into the term, after the first segment of the ECA’s Soft Skills curriculum has been taught and practiced in our 10/11th grade classrooms. The curriculum is taught in a series of 20-minute lessons each day, in each class period, for the first six weeks of the semester. It focuses on many micro-skills & behaviors centered around the following 6 categories:

    • Attendance
    • Preparation
    • Performance
    • Communication
    • Self-Advocacy
    • Self-Awareness

As the formal soft skills instruction comes to a close, students reflect on their own soft skills progress and proficiency in a self-assessment. They turn in those reflections and take their first big tests; then, they receive their first soft skills credentials in each class.

For the past five weeks, our new students have been learning the ropes at the ECA–and it’s a pretty big transition! They are attending school on a college campus, walking from building to building to get to their next class, instead of down the hall or up the stairs. They are figuring out a completely new social scene, finding new friends (and sometimes struggling to do so), locating a spot to each lunch, learning a new group of teachers and how to make connections in this new space–and sometimes feeling a little ambivalent about leaving their old school, and missing their old friends and teachers. They have been doing more homework, often, than ever before, and many times struggling to find time to fit it all in.

Students in their Credentialing Year often feel a great deal of pressure as they undertake the many transitions teenage-stress_12_2011from their old school or the ECA Academy 9th grade to our 10th/11th grade expectations. Furthermore, while the intensive and individualized attention on each student is a real strength of the program, it can also feel a bit intimidating to students. Many times, students (and parents, too!) harbor expectations that are unrealistic, sometimes putting pressure on themselves to be fully “credentialed” in their first semester in the program and immediately moving into college classes–and feeling stressed out and overwhelmed if their grades and credentials don’t match their initial hopes.

In the lead-up to Soft Skills Review Day, I wanted to provide some recommended mindset “don’ts” and “dos” for students (and parents).


  1. Don’t rush it. Getting “fully credentialed” is not a race. You will make it into college classes at the proper time, but not before.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others. Each student has an individual pathway through the ECA program. Because ECA students usually do not have history with each other, we have noticed that they tend to assume their classmates are somehow more capable or prepared or smart than they themselves are. This is not helpful.
  3. Don’t overdo it. If you need to turn in a draft of a paper, don’t spend all night making it perfect at the expense of your other work or your sleep. Use opportunities that are embedded in your classes to demonstrate growth and mastery–it doesn’t have to be perfect right away.
  4. Don’t give up!


  1. Ask for help. Your teachers, CORE Advisor, principal, counselor, family members, ECA mentors & classmates can often help in various ways.
  2. Focus on growth. Most students can see their own growth by week 5 or 6 in the program. Trust that you will continue to grow.
  3. Work smart. In addition to working harder (everyone works harder at the ECA!), find ways to work smarter: become more efficient, use your resources, and manage time more effectively.jumping people
  4. Celebrate success. Create mini-goals and acknowledge progress. Involve friends ,family, and your teachers and CORE Advisor.
  5. Find ways to balance school and life-outside-of-school. The ECA is rigorous, but that doesn’t mean that students should be doing nothing but studying. Physical activity, time with family and friends, and some personal downtime should fit into your life, too–although perhaps in different proportions than you’re used to. If you can’t find a way to find a balance, refer to #1 (ask for help!).

At the ECA, we really do believe that our students will grow in amazing ways through this program–at different times, with different bumps and smooth patches. Deep breath…you can do it!

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12 Tips for Civility in a School Community

In a school where diversity is valued, different world-views come into focus both in and out of class. At the Early College Alliance, our group of 165 “First Years” come from over 40 different prior educational settings, bringing an abundance of diversity in terms of Diversity and the Worldgeography, school experiences, religion, race, disability status, ethnicity, interests, gender, academic preparation, gender identity, income level, family type, home languages, national origin…and more!

From an educator’s point of view, the broader culture provides terrible modeling when it comes to engaging in conversations across the many aspects of diversity that makes us who we are–especially differences of opinion. For deep and meaningful learning to occur, teachers must set forth expectations for very thoughtful and intentional communication in the academic setting. And–BONUS–these 12 tips can be helpful outside of the classroom, too!

  1. Listen. The hallmark of a true discussion involves an exchange of ideas. You can’t exchange ideas if you don’t hear what the other person has to say. Listening is at once the simplest and most difficult challenge you face in a discussion. The easy part is that all you have to do is open your ears–and your mind–to the things another person is saying. The hard part is that you have to stop thinking about other things, including what you are going to say in response.
  2. Seek first to understand. To engage effectively in a discussion or conversation, especially one about sensitive topics, don’t assume you know why the other person
    Arguing Faces
    From Porter, M (2017). “Ten ways to win any argument.” Saga Magazine.

    holds the opinions or beliefs she or he is expressing. Do not assume anything! Start by asking a lot of questions:“Why do you think ____________?”

    “How do you know ____________?”

    “What if ____________ were the case?”

    “How/where did you hear about ____________?”

  3. Know Thyself. Pay attention to your own ability to participate in a discussion or conversation involving sensitive topics. Notice how you physically respond to the things others are saying: Does your heart start beating faster? Do you feel antsy or anxious? Do you feel like you might cry, or yell? Are you able to listen, or are your own thoughts too “loud” in your mind? If the answer is yes to these questions, you may not be emotionally able to take part in this discussion. The topic may be too sensitive for you at this moment. Step away, either physically (take a bathroom break, leave the area) or psychologically (don’t raise your hand to participate this time). Those who are members of often-stereotyped groups can become tired of helping others to learn about their group; it is OK to step back and let someone else take on that role now and then.
  4. Practice Compassion. When you are taking part in a conversation where feelings are running high, practice empathy. Understand that topics involving social identities can feel like existential threats to member individuals. Let’s break this down. Social identity refers to “a person’s sense of who they are based on their groupcompassionel-wordle membership(s)” (McLeod, 2008). Member individuals means those people who belong to a certain group, such as women, Latino/as, Catholics, etc. If you are from an immigrant family, for example, discussions about immigration can touch on very personal aspects of your life, sometimes with immediate relevance and impact. On the flip side, if you are not an immigrant, this topic is largely theoretical and not personal–more of a thought exercise than a matter involving key aspects of your own life experience. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This perspective-taking is an important life skill!
  5. Think critically. There are many models of extraordinarily bad behavior in our ultra-divisive country–including an alarming tendency to react without thinking at all, to say nothing of thinking critically! Hot topics test our ability to think critically, but make it your discipline to do so. Take your time to think through issues, examine various perspectives, search out logical fallacies in arguments, and make sure that your own opinions can be supported with accurate information.
  6. Be Polite. Whether you are in a classroom discussion or lunchtime conversation or a group text, remember your manners! DO acknowledge another person’s perspective by saying something like, “I hear what you’re saying.” DON’T engage in name-calling, bad-mouthing, belittling, or personal attacks. It is decidedly unhelpful, for example, to call someone “racist” because they support a certain political party. If someone expresses an opinion or makes a statement that is racist, let them know using mature, polite language, and explain why. NOTE: Most definitely do not bring any of those “DON’Ts” onto social media or allow them to devolve into bullying or harassing behavior.
  7. Assume Positive Intentions. Many conflicts arise because of slight misunderstandings that somehow get blown way out of proportion. Assuming positive intentions on the part of others can help to limit a lot of problems. People have a wide range of background knowledge of topics that may be extra sensitive; if a person says or does something that is offensive, start by assuming the she or he hasn’t learned how to handle or speak about that situation yet. Some people do like to push others’ buttons and create drama. But, especially in an early college context, most people are trying to do the best they can to engage positively with others and are willing to learn how to do better.
  8. Don’t Freeze People in Time. This phrase, taught to our staff by Dr. Shayla Griffin in the Justice Leaders Network trainings (2016-17), reminds us that people make mistakes and sometimes say or do hurtful things. Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t stay mad or define a person by something she or he said or did before he or she knew better.
  9. Practice the Golden Rule. Treat people the way you want to be treated. This rule holds true in heated discussions and conversations just as in other aspects of life. If you want the chance to express your opinion, give those with completely different opinions the chance to express theirs.
  10. Use “I” Statements. With hot topics, sometimes people (even your friends) will say things that really bother or offend you. Sometimes they will do this in a way that hurts your feelings. If you are truly hurt or offended–especially if you are in a relationship with the person that is worth preserving–tell them. Remember “I-statements” from elementary school? Start with “I think…,” “I feel…,” “I believe…,” or “I heard…”
  11. Say “I’m Sorry” When You Hurt Someone. If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, or if you think they shouldn’t feel hurt by what you said (or how you rolled your eyes), still apologize. You can say, “Wow, I didn’t realize I hurt your feelings. I’m so sorry!” or “It was not my intention to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry about that.” You can even admit to a personal foible that you recognize: “I have a tendency to laugh when things are tense; I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry!”
  12. Clarify Your Purpose in a Discussion. A debate seeks to “score points” for your own perspective; a discussion is different. While we would all love to bring everyone along to our way of thinking, the purpose of most discussions should be to learn about others’ points of view and to learn how to most effectively express your own. This is true in a classroom discussion or a heated conversation among diverse friends.

There are countless opportunities in life to practice these twelve tips for more civil interactions with others. At the Early College Alliance, we directly teach these and other strategies for discourse in our “soft skills” curriculum–a set of readings, activities, and discussions that each teacher in each class period of each day teaches to students in our high school classes. It is very counter-cultural to pay so much attention to the content and quality of interpersonal interactions among students–and staff, but we have found that this focus pays dividends. A school culture characterized by self-aware and other-aware critical thinkers provides a rich environment for tremendous personal growth–for all of us.

Social Justice & Early College

A Principal’s Mid-Year Reflection

It’s only three months into the 2016-2017 academic year,  and we, the administrative staff at the Early College Alliance, are already gearing up for next year’s enrollment. The ECA operates in a “cohort” model, in which a large group of 10th and 11th graders begin the program together in the fall term of each year. A specific set of experiences both prior to and during the first ECA semester help new students from over 40 different prior educational settings to acclimate to this new and very different learning environment. Students get to know one another as they become integral parts of the ECA’s learning community. At the end of the first semester, a special celebratory luncheon is held to acknowledge the incredibly hard work that these incoming students have devoted to their learning, and to honor the milestone of completing that first, tough semester.

At this point, let me back up and recap some of the unique challenges that the ECA program—and this group of “First-Years” especially—have faced this semester. It’s a given in my mind that ECA students and their families are a little bit brave to leave their regular school and come to a university campus for high school. This experience is not really anywhere near the high school experience of most students. Not remotely. Unless the new family has other children who have gone through the program, ECA first-year students and parents/guardians have a lot of adjusting to do, from an increased homework load to the new physical campus environment to a very different school-family partnership.

A Difficult Semester

About three weeks into this fall, 2016 semester, I received an early-morning text from our Senior Administrative Assistant, Mrs. Jackson. It was a picture of a message spray-painted in red, white, and blue on our building, King Hall. At the top were the letters “K, K, K.” Below, the message, “LEAVE, N—ERS!”


ECA student Anya Luckey perfectly captured the impact of the hateful message on the psyche of the program and its people: “Graffiti etched into our souls and the punch of racism bruised in our brains.” (Luckey, A., ECA Art Project, 2016).

As the police and EMU’s administration began their detective and rephandprintair work, and college students and faculty mobilized to respond, ECA’s staff and students also felt the need to speak out. Ms. Burki spearheaded a Unity Chalking event, covering the sidewalks around our building with positive messages to counteract the hate that had been painted there. The next week, Mrs. Jackson and our Student Leaders pulled together an event to celebrate our diversity and commit to protecting that diversity, entitled “Unity in the Community.” (See photo, right). A new awareness of the impact of blatant and ugly racism right here in our midst was inescapable.

Less than a month later, a smart, talented, and unforgettable ECA first-year student died by suicide at his home in Milan. For the first time in my nearly 20-year career, I was faced with the death of a current student—one who had already carved out a place of friendship and belonging for himself in our school with a physical, social, and intellectual presence that was huge. Teachers, themselves devastated by the news, read statements to inform students in ECA classes of Jonah’s death. Thus, supported by crisis responders from across the county, the grieving of our learning community began.

Still reeling from the loss of our student and attempting to regain our collective footing at a time of year that is incredibly intense in the best of times, a second racist graffiti incident took place on campus—just across the courtyard from King Hall. Protests and

vega-emmateach-ins on our college campus gave rise to many classroom and office-hours conversations about racism, Black Lives Matter, social identity issues, politics in general and the 2016 Presidential election season in particular, and how to carve out and protect learning spaces that are physically and psychologically safe for all students. With these incidents fresh in their minds, our student representatives attended the 5th annual Washtenaw County Diversity Forum, and came away with the knowledge, skills, and passion to continue as leaders in diversity awareness and education at the ECA through our Diversiteam.

Somehow, together we made it to the end of the fall semester—and to our Celebration on December 16. As the principal of this uniquely wonderful program, I was both excited and humbled as I walked the perimeter of the Ballroom, viewing the artwork that each ECA student contributed to the event as part of their final English classes. Students had been asked to design a visual representation of themselves (self-portrait) or of some aspect of the ECA program, focusing on capturing what this past semester has meant to them.

As this term has been an especially tough one, there was an explicit appreciation for the ways in which we have all been tested, individually and collectively. Many students expressed both visually and in words the impact that this intense term had on them—academically, emotionally, socially, and even physically. Common themes easily emerged as I took in images reflecting many of the values of this program: growth, hard work, interdependence (the theme for this school year), and diversity.

These themes were also reflected in the comments students made on the surveys they completed for their CLICK (Character, Learning, Involvement, & College Knowledge) class this semester. The “best things about the ECA” responses fell into categories where teachers who care/are good at teaching was the most common, and diversity & acceptance was next, followed closely by freedom, positive learning environment/good education, and, of course, free college!

Diversity: Critical Content for a Complex World

Given the complexity of the past semester at the ECA, in combination with my own professional values, I have been thinking a lot about the role of schools (and the ECA, in particular) in cultivating a school community that is both highly diverse and highly-functioning.

Diversity in school can be hard to talk about. There is a strong pull toward minimizing questions that attempt to explore the challenges of diversity:

  • How might the experience of being a Black student on a campus where racist messages specifically targeted people of your race impact a student’s feeling of safety?
  • How might a student’s immigration status, or that of their family members, influence the amount of mental energy they have to devote to learning?lucky-art-project-1
  • How might food insecurity impair a student’s ability to function with full attention on their school work?
  • How might a health condition or disability (a student’s or family member’s) affect assignment completion?
  • How might mental health/illness impact student learning?
  • How might fear for one’s own (or one’s friends’) safety in a climate that feels intolerant and hateful detract from our students’ ability to focus on school?
  • How might acts or threats of harassment, assault, and bullying—in or out of school—affect a school community?

The same minimizing instinct is true for questions about the benefits of diversity:

  • How might the chance to listen to and learn from students of different races contribute to enhanced understandings of the ways in which history shapes our present?
  • How much might immigrant students’ cultural heritage add to the awareness of our interconnected and global community?
  • How might interactions between those from different income levels, or family structures, open students’ eyes to social realities that are often hard to see?
  • How might students with differing genders and gender identities add critical, questioning voices to the conversation about what is possible for girls and boys (and others) in our culture?
  • How might conversations between people of different religions expand the whole community’s awareness of the similarities that unite us?
  • How can we possibly tap in to the riches of our multi-layered, multi-hued, multifaceted diversity to create an even more powerful and empowering learning opportunity for more and more learners?

It turns out that focus on diversity feeds an often-overlooked aspect of our students’ needs. Not always comunity-in-the-community-framefortable conversations, discussions about diversity are nonetheless central to helping students understand their own social identities, regardless of what
those may be, in a complex and diverse world. Thinking expansively, creatively and critically about issues of diversity enable students to join in the civic discourse in a civil way—a necessity of high-level participation in both college and in life. More importantly, acknowledging the challenges and benefits of diversity helps our diverse students feel welcomed and safe, as well as heard and seen.

Social Justice: Equity & Access in Early Colleges

As an educator, my commitment to diversity is much more than an exercise in civic education. I am also a scholar of early colleges, which have deep roots as change-making, social-justice reforms in our nation’s educational landscape. Educational reform, at its best, is about deep and critical reflection about the best way to transform the practice of education. Transformation requires that we ask many questions about whether, and for whom education is working and not working, and what is required to make significant, high-leverage changes in the system. Early colleges ask these questions in the educational space that exists between high school and college.

The answer to our question is that inequality continues to plague our educational system—and those of us who work in the early college movement tend to believe that we can do something about it. Making high-leverage changes in the early college setting first requires an explicit acknowledgement of the unacceptable status quo that allows huge discrepancies in outcomes on the basis of race, gender, disability, income level, and other factors. This is the social justice foundation of our work.

Michigan’s public data-reporting portal,, includes information about demographics and test scores for all of our schools in the state, and is adding post-secondary data year by year. Anyone can take a look to see how well high school programs prepare students for college success.

According to this site, only about 39% of Michigan’s 2015 graduates enrolled in a 4-year university within 6 months after they graduated. White students enrolled at a slightly higher level, 41%–but Black students did so at numbers 13% below their White counterparts. The numbers for Washtenaw County are not much better. Overall 56% of the graduates started at a 4-year university within 6 months. White students did so at 51%, Black students at 38%, Hispanics at 35%, and low income students in our county at only 28%. This information is only about enrolling in a 4-year college, and says nothing of actually completing a 4-year college degree. Figure 1, below, depicts these results.


Figure 1. Percentage of 2014-2015 graduates enrolled in a 4-Year college/university within 6 months of high school graduation, Michigan (statewide) and Washtenaw County figures (

ECA’s figures are much higher—with a reported 97% of our 2015 grads enrolling in a 4-year college after graduating, 90% of our Black students doing so, and 78% of White students. (It should be noted that the ECA’s numbers are very low, overall, and reports on are incomplete as the state works on cleaning up the data for programs like ours).

The data on educational outcomes based on demographic subgroups are grim across several other key indicators that tend to predict college success: grade point average, ACT/SAT scores, dual enrollment credit earned in high school, and attainment of Bachelor’s degrees. It is a well-documented fact, nation-wide, that Bachelor’s degree completion over a 6-year period hovers around the 60%-mark (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016). The lowest outcomes persist among students who are traditionally underrepresented in college: students of color, low-income students, and those who are the first in their families to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.

In my own 2016 study of graduates who continued their undergraduate education at Eastern Michigan University, I found that ECA’s student outcomes were significantly higher than that of their non-ECA peers at EMU (Fischer, 2016. Preview LINKED HERE). What is even more exciting, to me, is that the outcomes were statistically consistent across student subgroups. This consistency is quite different from the “all-EMU” and “Washtenaw County” populations, which showed markedly lower attainment rates for underrepresented populations (shown in the graph below).


Figure 2. Bachelor’s Degree attainment of EMU students who graduated from high school in 2010 and 2011, comparing the rate of all EMU students, all graduates from Washtenaw County, and only the ECA graduates in the sample, by demographic subgroup (Fischer, 2016). 

Final Thoughts

Both anecdotes and the first data on Bachelor’s Degree attainment rates confirm that early colleges are perfectly positioned to make a positive difference in this story–for all students. The type of educational experience that the ECA and similar early colleges  provides is perhaps especially critical for students who are traditionally underrepresented in college. The factors that research suggests are key to the success of our model, particularly among diverse student groups, reflect those things that our F2016 cohort spoke about in their projects and surveys:

  • TRUE college prep skill-building courses that make sure kids are prepared for college
  • Faculty mentors (CORE Advisors) who help students and families make the transition into college and help monitor performance in college
  • Supportive peers and classmates who are focused on school success
  • A diverse and welcoming group of students situated on a university campus—with access to the many resources that EMU provides; and, of course…
  • Free college! The ECA provides a roughly $25,000 value in free tuition and books–the equivalent of a two-year college scholarship while still in high school.

There is a great deal of strength to build on as we recruit the next group of “First Years” at the ECA. As a critically reflective educator, I know that we have lots of continued work to do to cultivate a program that really lives the values of diversity and inclusion. But as we turn the corner into 2017, facing challenges and opportunities that will likely continue to test us and inspire us, I am confident about the strength of our learning community. I believe in our collective ability and willingness to be bold in tackling problems, to be honest about our areas for growth, and to be fearless in our support of each other as we do this work–students, staff, and families alike. This is the social justice foundation of my work.


Figure 3. Image and description created by first-year ECA student Liz McClelland, capturing the essential pieces of our school culture. 

Interdependence Musings

In my sword-interdependencetart-of-the-year communications, I introduced a theme for the ECA community for the year: We are in this together!–Cultivating the skill of interdependence.” The paradox of relying on others (which can feel like dependence) to be successful in one’s own life and work (which is key to independence) can be hard to learn! Interdependence deepens this dynamic with the explicit recognition that giving to the relationship is as important as taking from it–reciprocity is key.

In reviewing syllabi from various college courses that ECA students are taking this semester, I’m finding the expectation of strong interdependence skills everywhere! A few examples:

  • Participation (defined as verbally contributing to class discussions) is 10% of the course grade
  • Required group projects
  • Peer editing components of the grade
  • Scheduled instructor conferences (one-on-one)

Not every instructor explicitly embeds these types of activities directly into their course syllabus or grading scheme, but interdependence is expected, nonetheless. Being prepared and willing to speak up in class can be especially hard; it’s something ECA teachers really push for!

It turns out that instructors at ECA and EMU aren’t the only ones who demand this type of student involvement. In his article, Why Cold Calling on Students Works, raising-handsDavid Gooblar (August, 2016) discusses how central class participation is to his class, not only to the overall “vibe” of the class, but also to the actual academic performance of the students. Citing a recent study on the topic, Gooblar explains, “…one student’s participation has a positive effect on another’s learning — student participation is a tide that lifts all boats” (See FULL ART
for more).

It is our task at the ECA to teach this skill, to ask students to keep building their confidence and competence in this area, to keep learning how to ask and answer questions, voluntarily participate in class, be effective self-advocates, and to give and get help outside of class. Our community is stronger as the skills of interdependence begin to take root and grow!