MANSFIELD — Timmy Bass crouched on both knees on the floor of his mom’s living room one rainy morning. With a sharpened pencil in hand, the 11-year-old added to his index of Pokemon creatures.
The blue, worn notebook featured a color-coded map of his own Pokemon region, a description of each’s strengths and a colored picture for easy identification. Creating variations of his favorite Nintendo characters is just one of his pastimes following the completion of his sixth-grade year at Malabar Intermediate School.
Come fall, Bass — who reached an IQ of 132 in third grade — will begin his first college class at Ashland University through the state’s College Credit Plus program.
He will begin taking honors classes in all core areas through Mansfield City Schools and begin earning high school credits as a seventh grader. He’s also learning to play drums from an instructor at Richland Academy.
His recent academic achievements, which include earning straight As and a number of other scholarly awards, was largely because of how and where he studied for the last year: At home.
The pandemic forced hundreds of thousands students across Ohio to learn from home as uncertainties surrounding the disease led to school closures and a need for remote learning.
In Mansfield City Schools, just over 1,100 students began the year from their homes. Students and teachers slowly moved back to in-person instruction throughout the year, but 856 students remained fully remote by June 1, said Heather Kushner, the district’s director of digital learning.
Bass will be one of 300 students across the district who have so far enrolled in its online learning program.
After two troubled years at Malabar Intermediate, Bass opted for a fully online learning model when he entered the sixth grade. For the 11 year-old, high-functioning autistic student, the ability to do school online was a God-send, said Christina Bass.
Christina Bass has been unemployed from her job with a charter bus company since last year and is still actively searching for work. But not being in an office allowed her to stay home with her son and daughter, Julyana, 10, who also studied online for part of the year through Richland School of Academic Arts.
“For us, COVID was a blessing,” said Christina Bass, his mother.
‘By the grace of God’
Bass was placed on the autism spectrum at the age of 2, according to his mom.
“The doctors told me he would never speak,” she said. “By the grace of God, he was talking by 4 — and he hasn’t stopped.”
Neither has his desire to learn. Timmy Bass’ favorite subject in school is math.
“I love math, you can never have enough numbers,” he said.
His sixth-grade math teacher, Becky Smith, can attest to Bass’ affinity.
“I can’t describe him in words,” she said. “He ate everything up I gave him. And he really understood it. If he didn’t understand, it took him seconds to pick it up after a brief explanation. He begged me for more work.”
She said she had to customize the curriculum software for him because the ordinary work was too easy. By the end of the year, Bass was on to seventh-grade level mathematics.
Smith has been a teacher for around 20 years. She said Bass reminds her of Jacob Supron, a Mansfield City Schools academic standout and All-Ohio football star. Supron graduated as salutatorian in 2011 from Senior High. He went on to play football at Brown University and graduated from the Ivy League school in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
She knew Bass in fourth and fifth grades and described him as easily distracted, which often led to behavioral issues.
“But this year, with online learning, there was nothing to distract him … he could concentrate on his academics,” Smith said.
The beginning of Bass’ education was rough, Christina Bass acknowledged. Finding a school that could properly cater to his specialized needs was hard to come by. She said he often gets bored and acts out when that happens.
“His mind is high-functioning. It needs to stay occupied and challenged,” she said.
She is optimistic the state's CCP program will be one more thing to keep his mind occupied through middle and high school.
In its fifth year, CCP enrollment was up 5.2% in the 2019-20 school year, according to the latest figures from the Ohio Department of Education. The program is funded with state taxpayer money that is redirected from secondary schools to cover costs at colleges and universities.
Of the 76,973 enrolled in the program, only 113 were in seventh grade. The majority of CCP students are in tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades.
State data shows 318 students enrolled at Ashland University through CCP in the 2019-20 school year. Collectively, those students earned 2,675 credits. Christina Bass hopes three of those credit will have been earned by her son next year.
Bass' first college experience at Ashland University will be its University Study Skills course, a three-credit-hour course. Christina Bass said the class will get his feet wet for the first year.
She hopes her son excels, just like in everything else he does.
"If she stays doing this, he could graduate high school with a bachelor's degree," she said.
An ‘absolutely phenomenal young man’
It’s not just numbers and Pokemon with Bass.
Smith introduced a project-based course involving math earlier this year for her sixth-grade students. Part of the project was allowing students to choose a charity to support through fundraising.
Bass chose to support his church’s food pantry at Providence Baptist, located along Sixth Street in Mansfield. For two weeks, he walked up to eight laps a day around Malabar’s track. Each lap, he’d ask friends, family and parishioners for donations.
He raised $700 during that time. He plans to donate the money officially at church on June 13.
“He’s an absolutely phenomenal young man. It’s amazing he has the heart and wherewithal to do that,” said the Rev. Mark Cobb of Providence Baptist, referencing Bass’ fundraiser for the food pantry.
Cobb happens to be Bass’ barber. That’s how the two met eight years ago when his mother brought him in for a haircut. Over the years, they have become friends and Cobb has seen growth in his young friend — both in the barber’s chair and in the classroom.
“I went to his (sixth-grade) graduation, where he was named the school’s sixth grader of the year. And I’ve been to a couple of his parent/teacher conferences over the years. This year, he has grown leaps and bounds,” he said.
He knows online learning this year led to his recent success. So does his mom.
“He’s a special kid. It just took COVID to hit for people to understand how special,” Christina Bass said.