SOUTH POINT, Ohio — Ordinary is not a word that would be used to describe the Tri-State Science, Technology, Engineering, Math & Medicine School in South Point.

The public high school with about 70 students already has been rated one of the best STEM schools in the Buckeye State, according to Gary E. Robinson, director of the school. Robinson started working Jan. 4 and wants to make it one of the best high schools in the country.

In only its second year of operation, the Ohio high school also serves students in Kentucky and West Virginia.

"Ten percent of our enrollment is from out of state," Robinson said. "A lot of our school parents teach at Marshall University.

"We don't use books. We don't have desks or lockers," Robinson said. "There are no intercom systems, no bells. We use laptops. It's an environment that encourages learning. Here the curriculum conforms to the students. Our absenteeism rate is almost nothing.

"These kids are very talented," Robinson said. "They truly are the future leaders of this country. We have kids right now attending classes at Marshall through the College Credit Plus program. Some of them aren't old enough to drive."

While most of the students are freshmen and sophomores, the STEM school has two seniors slated to graduate this year and go to Marshall, Robinson said.

Marshall has been very supportive of the high school, he said.

"We fix them up on a college readiness plan," he said. "We want to continue to grow. We would like to have tours and visit eighth-grade students in local school districts if the districts allow it. At some point, we could expand to taking students starting in the sixth grade.

"It will take years to get to that point, but there are opportunities out there," Robinson said. "With good education comes good jobs."

Robinson, 65, is a Scioto County native. He received his bachelor's degree from Ohio University. At one point, he was taking classes at Shawnee State in the mornings and taking evening classes at Ohio University. He has two master's degrees from Morehead State University and is working on his Ph.D.

He worked at the Scioto County Joint Vocational School for about 15 years. He also has worked at the Pike County Career Technical Center and the Pickaway Ross Career Technical Center. That last job was a 99-mile job one way from his home in Russell, Kentucky.

"This job (in South Point) was the perfect fit for me," Robinson said.

Since taking the STEM job, Robinson has opened up an arts component at the school.

"I love music," Robinson said. "We're going to start a music club, a choir and a band that will play jazz and blues."

He plans to have students build their own electric guitars and drums.

The school offers three languages, Spanish, German and sign language, Robinson said.

Lindsey Watters, of Kitts Hill, Ohio, 17, is among those taking college credit classes at Marshall. She plans to get in the medical school at Marshall. One of her class assignments at Marshall was to talk about her high school career. They asked her what year she was in in college, and she told them she was a high school junior.

Watters also is among the students taking sign language classes.

"You can communicate faster in sign," she said.

Mykala Cassity, of Ironton, a sophomore, wants to become a marine biologist. One of her jobs at the STEM school is to take care of a large saltwater fish tank with live coral. She has to check the tank water and filters daily, along with feeding the fish and checking a large filter once a week.

The STEM school also has a strong medical component, Robinson said.

"We are working with St. Mary's Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital," he said.

While Ohio students pay no extra tuition, students from West Virginia and Kentucky pay $7,000 to attend, Robinson said.

"We have limited resources," he said. "We will have a huge fundraiser and silent auction April 1. We sold some 30 tables last year. We hope to grow to 50 tables this year."

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