By Jeremy LydicCAMPBELL, Ohio – In a project for his technology class, Mihali Koullias was challenged with protecting an egg.

The task was clear: build a car that protects the egg during a short trip down a diagonal track. Koullias, seventh grade, and his classmates designed and built each car to a specific length and width, then used computers and 3D printers to design and make the wheels.

His team’s first egg cracked, he says, but they solved the issue by upgrading the car’s seat belt “to make it secure.” 

Hands-on projects like this are the cornerstone of education at the Northeast Ohio Impact Academy, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school adjoined to Campbell Middle School.  

Koullias, who aspires to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, says projects like this make him more confident with problem solving and working with his hands, and he’s eager for the forthcoming health pathway in the new Community Literacy, Workforce and Cultural Center, set to open May 1 next to the school.



The idea for the Impact Academy came about around the same time Campbell City Schools was planning the Cultural Center, says Kent Polen, the academy’s chief administrative officer. The district wanted to provide students with a more hands-on curriculum so they’re “not learning in silos,” he says.

“The whole idea behind STEM is to change the pedagogy of how we teach, why we teach, when the students learn,” he continues. “We’re taking down these four walls and trying to get them out in the community so they can really see how the world works, and how they can make a difference in their local community and region and state as a whole.”

The curriculum follows the content standards of Campbell City Schools and focuses on four pathways: digital, design, health and energy. Students are graded on their mastery of skills, such as operating 3D printing equipment or computer coding. 

The multidisciplinary approach allows students to see “how math and science are related to the humanities, English and social studies,” Polen says, and prepares students to either find work here after graduation, enroll in college or enlist in the military.

“Our goal is to have an impact on not just Campbell, but the whole Mahoning Valley so we don’t lose students going elsewhere to jobs,” Polen says. “We want to provide them with the skills and the education so they understand this area is starting to thrive, it’s starting to come back and we want them to be a part of that process.”

The Mahoning Valley College Access Program provides career counseling and invites speakers, many of whom are from Campbell, to show students that it is possible to live, work and be successful in the Mahoning Valley, says Cheryl McArthur, business manager for Campbell City Schools and on-site district administrator for the forthcoming cultural center.

Having students hear local success stories helps reverse the negative mindset that “nothing good comes from Youngstown,” McArthur says.

Eighth grader Kendall Brunn is in her first year at the Impact Academy and says she prefers the hands-on curriculum because “it challenges me to think in ways I don’t usually think,” she says. 

The aspiring anesthesiologist says science class bolsters her dream to work in medicine by getting her ready for the sheer amount of information she will have to study.

“We learned the parts of the brain, what the brain looks like and how they’re similar and different from human brains,” she says.

The brain dissection inspired Alivia Miranda’s dream to become a brain surgeon. The project had students learning about what happens to the human brain when it’s infected with a zombie virus. 

For the class, students read “The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse” by Steven C. Schlozman, a work of fiction that describes how a medical team researched a cure for a zombie outbreak.

“It’s really fun and it helps us learn the nerves and everything in the brain,” Miranda says. “I’m only 12 and I’m already learning about the brain and what I want to be, and it will help me with my career when I’m way older.”

In addition to curriculum-related skills, classes at Impact help students improve soft skills that will benefit them later in life, Polen says, and Impact puts those skills to practice. For example, instead of traditional parent-teacher conferences, students present their progress to their parents themselves. The conferences can be emotional for students, who are sometimes moved to tears of pride while discussing their accomplishments with their parents, Polen says.

Seventh grader Somara McGaha, who aspires to be a photographer, says the STEM-based learning helps her with developing problem-solving skills, as well as life skills, such as teamwork.

A $500,000 grant from the Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board paid for the renovation of the academy in a section of the middle school. Last spring, it received its designation as a STEM school for grades seven to 12 through the Ohio STEM Learning Network at Battelle Memorial Institute, one of 69 such schools in the state and the only one in the tri-county region, according to Battelle.org.

The Impact Academy opened this year to 38 seventh and eighth graders and will add grades nine to 12 in the next school year. Polen expects to reach 300 students over the next two to three years, he says. The primary application period for the 2021 school year runs Feb. 24 to April 24, 2020. Applicants are selected by lottery on April 28.

“It’s not based on your grades, attendance, behavior or anything,” Polen says. “It also gives us a wider range of people so we’re not becoming that school where we only take the top students.”

The added enrollment coincides with the opening of the Community Literacy, Workforce and Cultural Center. The $14 million project – wholly funded by grants and private investment – includes educational space in addition to community space for events, athletics and wellness.

The cultural center is the brainchild of a group of Campbell High School graduates who, during their senior year in 2013, approached the district’s board of education about the lack of recreational centers in the community, says Kristin Fox, assistant principal and special programs coordinator for Campbell City Schools.

“This is going to be such a blessing for some of these kids who just want to play basketball, run on the track, work out,” Fox says.

Construction of the 70,000-square-foot building started in July 2018 through the efforts of the district and its partners. They include the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Southwoods Health, Stark State College, Eastern Gateway Community College, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Partners will maintain space in the cultural center, providing community services as well as educational and career readiness opportunities for students, McArthur says. 

The library will open a branch inside the center to replace the Campbell branch that closed in 2017. It will also have a STEM area to teach classes for students in kindergarten to sixth grade.

Southwoods will staff a clinic in the center, McArthur says, and EGCC and Stark State will have educational space for a radiation technology program and shale education program, respectively. 

Other areas within the center, such as concessions or the wellness center, will provide job opportunities for students to learn some soft skills “and earn some money in the process,” McArthur says.

Impact works closely with the Regional Chamber and the Youngstown Business Incubator to identify regional career pathways for the students. Partners may also offer internship and job shadow opportunities for Impact students, Polen notes. 

With all the opportunities, students can graduate with at least 12 industry credentials “and/or an associate’s degree” in premedical, prepharmaceutical, or math and science that can be transferred to college, he says.

Adults looking to upskill or considering a career change can take advantage of educational programs in the cultural center. The mezzanine level will feature a 2,500-square-foot “dirty lab,” with CNC router machines, 3D milling machines, “anything that’s going to require things to get dirty and dusty will be in this space for hands-on activities and learning for students and adults alike,” Polen says.

The district looks to extend wraparound services for the community even further with the proposed third phase of the center’s development: a Whole Child/Whole Family Service Center that will adjoin the existing K-6 building on the side nearest the cultural center and Impact Academy, says Matthew Bowen, superintendent of Campbell City Schools.

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The United Way will provide literacy and whole family services in the new space. Other services offered there will include school-based mental health counseling, psychological evaluation, public/private collaboration space, a resource center for families in trauma resource, and a career counselors college and workforce access program.

The district is seeking $1.1 million for this aspect of the project and hopes to begin construction before the fall if the funds are secured, Bowen says.

“It’s great to see the silos broken down in our Valley with the willingness of public-private partners interested in creating a new model of education where we all focus on the future of the region through innovation, collaboration and education,” Bowen says. “We can grow our own and encourage future business and industry to come to our area where together we create a prepared and ready workforce.”

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