CANTON, Ohio — Darryl Owens Jr. and his son walked into Stark State College to meet with a professor.

When the professor emerged from her office, she began talking to them about the ongoing class and directed questions to Owens.

But he quickly redirected her, “Oh, no, you’re looking for my son.”

He pointed to 9-year-old Darryl Elijah Owens III. 

“It kind of threw her for a loop because he was so young,” the elder Owens recalled.

Elijah, now 10, of Canton is the youngest student ever enrolled at Stark State College, college officials confirmed.

He’s also unique as a student because he’s one of 27 homeschooled students who learn together at Cross Over Academy, a school with classrooms on the second floor of The Martin Center in Canton. Darryl Owens Jr. is the founder and administrator of Cross Over Academy, which began classes in August 2017. The nonprofit organization does not receive state funding.

Headed to college

Of the 15 upper-level students in Cross Over’s incoming class, seven of them, ranging in age from 10 to 18, are expected to be enrolled at Stark State by this fall.

They’re enrolled through Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, which allows college-ready middle school and high school students to take college courses for credit that also count toward their high school graduation.

Stark State spokeswoman Robyn Steinmetz said it’s not uncommon for Stark State to accept students who have been homeschooled. She said their application and enrollment process is the same as traditional students: They apply, complete the ACCUPLACER test for placement and turn in a homeschool transcript.

Julian Stevenson, 18, an incoming senior at Cross Over, plans to take speech and history classes on Stark State’s campus this fall. He wants to go on to attend Bowling Green State University and eventually build and operate a community center that will serve as a safe haven for children.

“Growing up as a kid, I didn’t have relationships with people,” he said. “The only relationships I did have was when I went to camp or the community center.”

Owens wants Cross Over students to graduate with a college degree in hand. He determines which students are ready for college-level work based on his observations in the classroom.

“Once they can show me through a full year that they are ready, then we start to have those conversations for them to go to Stark State and taking those classes,” Owens said.

Owens, who has taken the students to multiple college fairs, said he’s encouraging the students to apply to Stark State in Jackson Township because it is a local community college, which traditionally costs less than universities. While traditional public schools pay for the college classes that their students attend through College Credit Plus, students at Cross Over must pay for their own classes. Owens said Cross Over helps financially where it can and assists families in applying for state grant help, which can help cover the cost of a few classes.

First class

Elijah is the second student from Cross Over to enroll at Stark State. Khatequa Petty began taking classes last year while a senior at Cross Over. She’s now continuing her second year at Stark State as a 17 year old.

Elijah is taking College and Career Success Skills, a three-credit-hour online course designed to reinforce skills such as punctuality and self-discipline as well as teach techniques for studying, test-taking and problem solving.

“It’s pretty easy, but the first two to three weeks were hard,” Elijah admitted.

It took him a while to establish a routine so he could finish each week’s assignments. He currently has an A in the class.

He plans to take courses in history and public speaking in the fall in addition to his regular high school classes at Cross Over.

While Owens believes his son is ready for the level of work at college, he’s not ready to leave him, or any of the other younger Cross Over students, alone on campus.

“I don’t feel comfortable dropping them off at such a young age and just leaving them in the class,” Owens said. “But eventually, once they get a few classes in, I do want to step back a little bit and let them get used to doing their own thing without me being beside them.”

Elijah, who will be a junior at Cross Over this fall, hopes to become a professional basketball player, but adds that he’s also interested in becoming a college professor of American history or government, his current favorite subjects.