Utica Shale Academy sees enrollment jump after first year of oil and gas focused charter school opens in Ohio.
It started out as an idea. In the heart of gas and oil country in southern Ohio, why not open a high school where students can earn a general education degree as well as offer course elections for a gas and oil program?
Utica Shale Academy (USA), based in Salineville, Ohio, took that thought and ran with it. The result has been phenomenal.
The tuition-free, publicly funded school entered its second year in fall 2015. After having an enrollment of 43 students in grades nine through 12 in the first year, figures jumped to 71 students (16 freshmen, 15 sophomores, 24 juniors and 16 seniors) by the end of October in the second year. USA Director Eric Sampson says he receives multiple calls per week from students interested in enrolling.
“It’s like buying the first year of a new model car, nobody wants to buy it until they get all the kinks worked out,” Sampson says. “In year two, people are more inclined to buy. I think that’s what happened with us. A lot of people took the wait-and-see approach to see how things were going to go and saw the success we had. They said, ‘OK, we’ll buy in.’”
The school features online-based curriculum with a blended learning program where students can work in the classroom and at home. Core courses are fully aligned to Ohio’s Academic Content Standards, which are rooted in the National Academic Content Standards. Courses are provided by Jefferson County Educational Service Center Virtual Learning Academy.
Students, who must live in Ohio and be under the age of 21 to enroll, are required to be on site the majority of the time; however, the attendance policy isn’t nearly the same as a public school as students can go to class full or half days.
“That’s attractive to some kids that don’t care much for a traditional brick-and-mortar school,” Sampson says.
Every school day, each student decides what courses they want to tackle. If they choose to work on math, they can work on math. If English is their subject, the student will go through course work. All the students’ course work is completed at their own pace in the “one-room schoolhouse, so to speak,” Sampson says.
“It is as far from a traditional school setting as you can imagine,” Sampson says. “There is no teacher standing up front going through reading, writing and arithmetic. Students are online, and I just basically monitor to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
Ten students graduated last year from USA and 16 are on pace to earn their diplomas in 2016. Five of those seniors are going through the oil and gas curriculum. Roughly one-third of this year’s total enrollment is taking part in the specialized gas and oil program.
With so much interest in the Utica Shale Academy, it expanded to a second location this year to bring the program to as many kids as possible. In 2014, the academy occupied an area at Southern Local Jr./Sr. High School in Salineville. Along with Southern Local, this year Columbiana High School in Columbiana was added to offer a school more centrally located within Jefferson County. The two schools are about 35 minutes apart.
The first year was an opportunity for Sampson and the school advisory committee to figure out what worked and what didn’t as far as daily operation and curriculum. Since there isn’t another school like it in Ohio, there wasn’t a model for the academy to base anything after.
Senior Wes Householder is in his second year and has noticed substantial strides this year with how the school is functioning. Students are able to earn an increased number of gas and oil certifications this year and can also earn college credits.
“The second year we’re a little bit more efficient with online classes,” Householder says. “The PetroEd has updated a few times since last year, so there are a few different courses we can go on and take. We’ve got more help for our online courses. We’ve improved in every aspect of the school since last year.”
Along with taking online courses, students get plenty of hands-on training. Field trips to oilfields as well as heading to rigs and gas- and oil-related businesses in Ohio are a big draw for students. “We try to expose these kids to options so they get to see what is out there when they graduate,” Sampson says.
Local industry representatives also take the time to speak with the students. Brian Logue, a sales representative for Express Energy Services, speaks to the students a couple times a month. He’s also the industry representative and the school advisory committee member. Logue believes it’s invaluable for students to hear speakers.
“I think it’s very important because they get to hear from the actual people in the industry,” Logue says. “They get a good perspective and see what that person’s job is, what’s available, and the training that’s needed to get in certain positions.”
Logue also helps schedule other speakers and field trips. Before heading on a field trip, students generally study where they are traveling to have a good idea what to expect when they get on site.
“I think just like anything, when you actually go out in the field and see all the inner workings, you’re going to be more interested than sitting in a classroom and learning it from somebody,” Householder says. “You get that firsthand experience of what it might be like to do that job. I think once somebody realizes that’s what they want to do, they really put their effort into it.”
In the classroom, the students who are in the gas and oil program are learning what it takes to succeed in the workplace.
“They’ll get their basic oil and gas safety training, then you can get drilling training on how the well is drilled, the type of equipment used, different types of casing sizes,” Logue says. “That way, when they get out in the industry, they already know some basic terminology and they’ve been exposed to it well in advance of hiring guys off the street.”