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Horizon Science Academy celebrates its MIT graduate

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by Tom Ott
Cleveland Plain-Dealer

Mikel Graham is the Horizon Science Academy’s star graduate.

Graham, who was the valedictorian of the Cleveland charter high school’s Class of 2004, received bachelor’s degrees in aerospace technology and philosophy last week from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the fall, he will head to graduate school at Georgia Tech.

Advocates of Ohio’s privately run, publicly financed charter schools are trumpeting Graham’s success.

A video of an interview that he gave to the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions can be found on YouTube. Ron Adler, president of the pro-charter Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, took him to Columbus late last month to meet with state legislative leaders.

Horizon, which emphasizes science and math, recognized Graham’s potential and drew it out, Adler said. He said Graham’s progress bolsters the argument for charter schools at a time when they are under fire from Gov. Ted Strickland and school district unions.

“We are small enough, and all of our schools have different missions,” Adler said. “We are able to find whatever the strength or weakness is and address it.”

Graham, 22, said he transferred to Horizon to avoid going back to Shaw High School in East Cleveland. He went to East Cleveland schools from the sixth through ninth grades, then moved to Olmsted Falls.

When money problems forced his divorced mother to take him back to East Cleveland, he made the switch. Before attending East Cleveland schools, he was accustomed to the military-run schools he attended until his mother retired from the Navy.

He said he disliked the confrontation and lack of respect for authority he observed at Shaw.

“A number of students came to school with the sole purpose of creating conflicts, starting fights,” Graham said. “I got picked on a lot because I was a smart kid.”

At Horizon, Graham showed intense interest in technology and asked thoughtful questions, said James Clary, dean of students. Graham says Horizon whetted his appetite for knowledge.

Graham said his master’s degree studies will focus on propulsion sciences. He wants to become an Air Force fighter pilot and then a college professor.

Horizon overlooks the Shoreway near East 55th Street. Also on the property are elementary and middle schools run by the same management company, Chicago-based Concept Schools.

The high school was rated “effective” on its 2006-07 state report card, the most recent available. That is the second highest of five categories.

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