From day one, parents have big dreams for their children. They listen to their kids talk about being fire fighters, doctors, astronauts, basketball players and teachers.

From day one, parents have big dreams for their children. They listen to their kids talk about being fire fighters, doctors, astronauts, basketball players and teachers.

Parents and guardians watch their children's interests and talents develop, grow, and change over time.

When kids start school, parents want them to have the best education possible. They expect their kids to be in a high-quality learning environment that will engage and prepare them for success in college or the job market.

As children progress through school, parents remain focused on the goal for their children to be successful as adults. But for some moms and dads, keeping a child engaged in school, focused on the future, and working toward graduating high school is a big challenge.
Many parents struggle when a child's motivation to learn decreases, resulting in a lack of interest in school. Now more than ever, children are exposed to greater amounts of information and are engaged in various learning activities - some that complement their education and others that compete with it.

In our fast-paced, highly technological society, engaging children in learning that extends beyond school walls and textbook assignments is critical to keeping them in school. Students need to be involved in learning activities that are relevant to their daily lives, interests and aspirations. They need to interact with new information and use it to create something meaningful to them and understand how it fits into the real world.

Parents and educators used to think, "Give them time - kids will figure it out." Today, some Ohio students are identifying their interests and strengths early in adolescence. Such early planning enables teachers to work with students to customize curriculum, allow students to take courses that will help with future careers, while also earning the credits required for high school graduation.

Students who are interested in the environment, for example, might work on a local community initiative such as recycling. These students might collect and analyze data about garbage in their own homes and schools (math), and compare it to the average amount of garbage generated by each citizen (math). They might research recyclable materials (science) and identify which materials are most valuable as recycled items (science). The final project might be a presentation (reading and writing) to the city council or a community panel with specific suggestions benefitting the community (social studies, science).

By incorporating essential skills such as analysis, surveying, research, and effective communication, the students will learn about science and math in manners that are relevant to their lives. They also practice solving real-world problems and creating solutions. Businesses and communities benefit from fresh, innovative thinking from young minds guided by educators. Best of all, real learning occurs as a result of kids being more engaged, and they experience the satisfaction of true learning and success.

As college tuition rises and the global job market becomes more competitive, families are seeking alternative ways to fund college or help their children gain a meaningful and profitable skill or trade.

It has not been uncommon for parents to pay for their children's education through student loans. Today, there is another viable option.

Ohio students can learn a marketable skill through a two-year associate degree earned during their junior and senior years in high school. These skill accreditations, such as a nursing aide license or computer networking accreditation, pay significantly more than a typical teenager's minimum wage job.

The immediate benefits are that students get to work at jobs that contribute significantly to paying college expenses, they avoid the debt that follows them into adulthood, and they can apply the two-year credits to a four-year college degree, resulting in reduced time and costs.

Achieving new and different goals might require flexibility in how students can earn credits needed to graduate from high school. In Ohio, a student can earn a high school credit by receiving classroom instruction for 120 hours; by testing out of or demonstrating mastery of course content; or by pursuing one or more options, such as distance learning, educational travel, independent study, an internship in a local business or organization, or community service.

During 2009-2010, your school board will develop a plan for ways students can earn high school credits starting in the 2010-2011 school year. Parents should get involved and become knowledgeable about the development of credit flexibility policies in their school districts.

Sarah Luchs, director, Middle and High School Transformation, Ohio Department of Education

Jennifer Vargo, coordinator, Family and Community Engagement, Ohio Department of Education