As Marysville school district Superintendent Diane Mankins gives a tour of the new Early College High School, she offers a rapid-fire description of each room and its function.
A robotics laboratory, a lecture hall and collaborative work spaces throughout are just some highlights of the former Marysville Middle School, 833 N. Maple St.
A $12.4 million Straight A grant from the Ohio Department of Education is funding the state's first manufacturing-related early college high school to focus on the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Ohio Hi-Point Joint Vocational School District, Columbus State Community College, Honda of America Manufacturing, the Union County Chamber of Commerce and EDWorks are working with Marysville schools on the venture.
But the new school is just one of many "new" things for the district to deal with when students head back to class.
The first day of class for all students is Aug. 21; staggered start begins Aug. 18 for students in grades 1-8 whose last names start with A through G and all ninth-graders. The next day, Aug. 19, students in grades 1-8 whose last names start with H through O will report to class as will sophomores, juniors and seniors. Aug. 20 will be the first day of school for the rest of students in grades 1-8.
Once the school year is under way, the state has implemented several firsts for districts to put in place.
Kindergarten students will now undergo a readiness assessment to measure social skills, mathematics, science, social studies, language and literacy, among other things. Those assessments will start at the beginning of the school year and run through Nov. 1 in the hopes of giving educators a "starting point for learning," according to the Ohio Department of Education.
This year's state report cards will include an A-F grade for measures of kindergarten through third-grade literacy. Combine those expectations with last year's new Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, and the state shows it is serious about getting students started early.
"The research is profound that if you haven't learned to read by the third grade, you're most likely not ever going to regain those losses. It's the right-minded approach, it's just interesting the way it's going to roll out," Mankins said.
"Certainly we were already focusing on K-1-2 in preparation for the third-grade test. Now it's made us be a little more intentional, a little more focused, but it's about refining our data tools and talking about resetting some of our benchmarks."
At the high school level, this year's freshmen will no longer take the Ohio Graduation Test. Students will instead take seven end-of-course exams over their four years of high school. The details, however, are still sketchy.
"It still hasn't been defined exactly what they'll take. That's the scary part. We'll be the ones looking at the parents, and they (the state) haven't defined what the assessment is," Mankins said.
"We're waiting for a little more definition. I know Aaron (Cook, MHS principal) is prepared to talk with the freshman class about the change but also being very honest that we don't know what those assessments are," she said.
The class of 2018 entering the STEM school will also have to pass certain assessments, but they might look different than those given at Marysville High School.
"They can adopt assessments that are aligned to career and pedagogies and thoughts. Kathy (McKinnis, ECHS principal) is working on that now to see if we're going to try a different approach," Mankins said.
This also will be the first year that Ohio school districts will switch from using a maximum number of calamity days to a required minimum hours of instruction. Schools with grades 7-12 must be open for 1,001 hours a school year, and those from kindergarten through sixth grade must be open for 910 hours.
Mankins expects this won't be a problem for Marysville schools.
"We figured it based on what we used this (past) year and we'd be fine. We wouldn't have had to take any extended time or anything. I think it gives us a little more flexibility in that two-hour delay opportunity," Mankins said.
Another new offering is a mobile fab lab at Bunsold Middle School.
"It's in production now, so hopefully it will be here by the beginning of school. If not, it will probably be the beginning of September, so that will be a pretty exciting piece," Mankins said. "We've poured a concrete slab for that to go in."
"It's a different way of approaching school and electives in school. Our teachers have spent all summer being trained on fab lab and STEM and how to use the equipment in the fab lab. It's a pretty cool opportunity," she said.
A coalition of businesses, educators and economic development officials in an eight-county region of west central Ohio came up with the traveling "mobile lab" -- a truck trailer outfitted with examples of the latest technology utilized in manufacturing, including robotics, computer-aided design and CNC (computer numerical control) machines.
The targeted region includes Champaign, Franklin, Hardin, Logan, Madison, Marion, Morrow and Union counties.
The coalition has raised more than one-third of the estimated $1.4 million needed for the entire project and continues to seek additional participants and funders to launch the project by the end of the year.
"It's a really exciting year. We have a lot of things happening K-12. The district adopted a new phrase -- innovate, collaborate, inspire -- and we're really pushing that phrase," Mankins said. "We're just trying to push the envelope and create inventors and kids who are willing to take some risks and do things differently."