Scott Karn, Brush High School class of 2014, Aerospace Engineer at NASA

Scott Karn in front of a NASA rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi

Not many people can say that they are living their childhood dreams. Scott Karn, Brush High School Class of 2014, is surely living his.  Karn is part of the Mission Design team for the Gateway lunar space station. Under NASA’s Artemis program, Gateway will serve as an orbiting outpost as part of the agency’s return to the Moon. Working out of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Karn, an aerospace engineer, is looking forward to the proposed 2024 launch of the new space station.  “Gateway will not only be the first lunar space station, but also a capable exploration vehicle in its own right. This will be an unprecedented mission and an important stepping stone in the long road to human exploration of Mars and beyond”, said Karn.

Karn and his colleagues recently published a paper on the project entitled, “Analysis of Cislunar Transfers Departing from a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit Using Solar Electric Propulsion”-a subject so complicated that most lay people have trouble understanding it. Karn credits his teachers at SEL for helping him communicate complicated scientific information in a way that people can understand. “Orbital mechanics can be hard to understand even for the majority of engineers at NASA. Most of my job now is taking the complex mathematics and distilling that into a story that everyone can understand.   Being able to write well and being able to tell a story has been incredibly helpful. Many engineers are great students but can’t communicate effectively. The good communicators are the ones that tend to excel. The entire English and History departments at Brush did an exceptional job at teaching students how to communicate well”, explained Karn.

Karn’s interest in space exploration began in childhood as he watched coverage about the construction of International Space Station.  Participation in the Brush Robotics Club helped support his budding interest.

Karn recalls that Mr. Mikes, his physics teacher at Brush, went through the school’s archives, locating some literature on space exploration published in the 1960s to help foster Karn’s interest in the topic. Karn is a 2018 Case Western Reserve University graduate in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering at Case and is scheduled to graduate this December.  “A lot of students at Case graduated from nationally ranked high schools from around the country. I always took a lot of pride in the fact that SEL didn’t just prepare me to keep up with these students, but also outperform them in the classroom. I found that SEL Schools prepared me very well for success at college and beyond. The space exploration business is a human cultural endeavor and having that diverse cultural background that my time at SEL provided, has been helpful. The Gateway project has collaborators from all over the world. The experience I had at SEL, working alongside many diverse groups of people, provided an important foundation”, said Karn.

Karn looks forward to a future continuing to do what he loves best. “Everyday I get to work on problems that have never been solved before and it is very exciting to be a part of the next chapter in human space exploration.”

To read Karn’s recent paper click here.

Short videos on the Artemis program and Gateway can be found here and here.

“A lot of students at Case graduated from nationally ranked high schools from around the country. I always took a lot of pride in the fact that SEL didn’t just prepare me to keep up with these students, but also outperform them in the classroom.”–Scott Karn

Space and Rocket Center near NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama

Mass Exodus: The Alarming Re-Segregation of Cleveland’s East Side Inner Ring Public Schools

School districts with the highest levels of white-opt out are coded in the darkest blue; those with the least in the lightest blue. (Courtesy of Beth Fry)

Five years ago, Beth Fry was a sophomore at The Ohio State University majoring in Public Affairs when she accepted a summer internship at the City of South Euclid. It was here that she and Housing Director Sally Martin began a joint project to dig into the deeper reasons behind what both saw as a mass exodus of white families from the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District. Armed with research that Beth had been working on for the past year at OSU, the two began the SEL Experience Project blog to tell the stories of families and students who stayed in the district and to discuss publicly for the first time the statistics and possible reasons behind those who opted out.

As a 2013 graduate of Charles F. Brush High School in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District, Beth saw firsthand the white flight from the schools.  “I started noticing it in fourth grade.  There seemed to be a lot a fear on the part of parents about sending their kids to the upper elementary school, so many of my friends moved away or were sent to private schools,” recalls Beth. “It wasn’t hard to see that those moving in and those moving out looked very different from each other.”

Beth and her brother Colin attended SEL Schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  Both went on to prestigious colleges: Ohio State and Cornell for Beth, and Northwestern in Chicago for Colin.  Both were at the top of their respective graduating classes at Brush, with Colin being named Salutatorian of the Class of 2015. “Many Brush grads went on to top colleges and have done very well, in many cases much better than our friends who made a big to-do about attending private schools or moving away. I personally have seen little added benefit to those who opted out of SEL, unless it was moving to be closer to family or a desire for religious education. My classmates at SEL and I, meanwhile, received an excellent education while also being immersed in a diverse environment—both racially and socioeconomically—that’s helped prepare us for life beyond high school,” she says. “I remember being a freshman at Ohio State and listening to all my classmates commend the university’s diversity while I was wondering why there were so many white kids,” Beth laughs. “My time in SEL gave me a much different frame of reference.”

Now in 2020, Beth Fry has recently completed her Master of Public Administration at Cornell University. Her thesis, “Racial Imbalance Between Communities and Public Schools in Cuyahoga County, Ohio:  Non-Hispanic Whites Opting Out Amid Rising Black Enrollments,” seeks to scrutinize the issue more acutely by analyzing patterns of enrollment and the role of public policy in furthering segregation. Given the current climate of racial inequity in our country and the seemingly futile efforts to combat it, Beth’s findings are sobering and should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers and the public at large.  

In terms of school segregation, the clock has gone backward at an alarming rate.  Segregation in public schools is now comparable to rates in the 1960s, before court-ordered desegregation plans were mandated across the country. Cuyahoga County has the fifth highest black-white segregation in the nation. 73% of Greater Cleveland’s black residents would need to move in order for the metropolitan area to achieve integration with whites. In the United States more broadly, the Midwest has the dubious distinction of possessing the highest levels of metropolitan school segregation and between-district segregation of any region in the country; much of this is due in large part to discriminatory land use laws and housing policies that actively and legally pushed black Americans into racialized ghettos throughout the twentieth century.

In terms of school segregation, the clock has gone backward at an alarming rate.  Segregation in public schools is now comparable to rates in the 1960s, before court-ordered desegregation plans were mandated across the country. Cuyahoga County has the fifth highest black-white segregation in the nation. 73% of Greater Cleveland’s black residents would need to move in order for the metropolitan area to achieve integration with whites.

In Cleveland’s east side inner-ring suburbs, the data is particularly alarming. Those communities have a higher number of white families opting out of public schools than those residing within the City of Cleveland. Beth’s data shows that for every two black families moving into these school districts, one white family moves out.  East side inner-ring suburbs now have, on average, 78% black enrollment; west side inner-ring suburbs, by contrast, have an average black enrollment of 4% and the City of Cleveland has 67% black enrollment. Between 2009-2017, the white opt-out rate for South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools was 71%­—this refers to the percentage of white families who could use the schools but made other educational choices. In nearby Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools, which some South Euclid residents attend, a staggering 85% of white families opt-out of the public-school district. 

A notable exception to this trend on the east side inner-ring of Cleveland is the Shaker Heights City School District, which has a white opt-out rate of 47%; this is the only east-side inner-ring suburb with an opt-out rate less than 50%. Shaker Heights schools has put forth a notable effort of promoting and managing diversity within the district for decades, and those efforts have obviously been fruitful.  To put into perspective just how dire the situation on the east side inner-ring is, the west side suburbs overall have an average white opt-out rate of 38% and the east side outer-ring suburbs have an average white opt-out rate of 47%–the same as Shaker Heights.

During the last two decades, enrollment in South Euclid-Lyndhurst schools has declined, students qualifying for free and reduced lunch has increased exponentially, and the racial makeup of the schools has dramatically shifted—from 75% white for the class of 2000 to 16% white for the class of 2018.

Given that many of the same faculty, academic, and co-circular programs remain and the district has solid funding, Beth cites recent studies that the changing demographics are caused by white parents’ perceptions of a “racial threat”—the theory that as a minority group increases in size or visibility, the white majority perceives a threat to their security or position of privilege or control. “The difference in white opt-out rates across the county is almost entirely explained by the enrollment proportions of black students in a school district. The higher the percentage of black enrollment, the more white families will seek alternatives for their children to the community public schools,” Beth notes.

Or perhaps it’s the common assumption that high proportions of black students enrolled in a school district is correlated with lower socioeconomic status. Poorer students are assumed to be lacking in parental support and involvement compared to their more financially stable peers, which many extrapolate to mean disruptive classrooms and an adverse learning environment.  The irony of all this, of course, is that if white families remained in the district and a balance of racial and socioeconomic diversity was retained, research proves that better outcomes for all students would be assured.[1] “At the end of the day,” Beth says, “most white families will put their own child’s educational future ahead of the long-term, greater good and the advancement of the community, no matter how well-intentioned or verbally supportive of racial justice they may be. But unfortunately, intentions don’t dismantle white supremacy.”

When asked if there is a solution to maintaining a healthy level of racial diversity in schools, Beth cites Louisville, Kentucky as a notable example.  “Jefferson County Public Schools are now some of the most racially integrated schools in the United States,” commented Beth.  The consolidation of multiple school districts under a federal court order in the 1970s has limited the exit options for parents, requiring them to either move far outside the urban core or invest in private education to avoid attending racially diverse public schools. “It’s part of the reason there’s less segregation now in the South than in the Northeast and Midwest—because school districts are organized at the county level rather than the local level,” Beth stated. Jefferson County Public Schools also implements a method of school choice, where school attendance is based on ranked preference as opposed to neighborhood zoning. The success of the school merger led the City of Louisville and Jefferson County to combine governments in 2003. 

In Cuyahoga County, with 59 distinct municipalities and 31 different school districts, schools are still funded by property taxes in spite of the Ohio Supreme Court ruling this method unconstitutional in its 2002 decision in DeRolph v. State of Ohio. [2] This governmental fragmentation is creating an environment of segregation where some schools are “winners” with high standardized test scores and others are “losers” as increasing poverty rates and a loss of diversity results in lower test scores and state rankings—further driving away families who have other options. “Economists and sociologists have linked government fragmentation with increased racial segregation for decades. More school districts and municipalities means more options for white families fleeing desegregation efforts or other proxies for high black enrollments—like state test scores—because smaller units of government make it easier to exclude public good,”said Beth.

This is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.  As families are scared away from a diverse district, the district becomes poorer and test scores and rankings drop. The creation of a county-wide school district in Cuyahoga County would require tremendous political leverage and the buy-in of 59 municipalities with home rule powers, a daunting task considering the collective power of suburban communities and the hostility of the state government to the urban core.

When asked about her response to parents citing low test scores and other state metrics for their reasons for opting out, Beth comes back with evidence: “For the past 55 years, research has told us that the greatest predictor of educational achievement is socioeconomic status and parental education level. Only about a third of the achievement gap between white and black students is explained by school quality and classroom characteristics.” Indeed, this is why Beth’s own parents insisted on sending her and her brother to SEL schools. “My parents loosely knew about these findings and that their upper-middle class status put them in a position to make up for any shortcomings in our classroom education, should they arise. My dad regularly helped me as I struggled with my calculus homework and my mom was a mainstay in the PTA up until my brother and I graduated. While some parents may have qualms with using their children as guinea pigs for some form of social equity project, I was one of those guinea pigs and now I have an Ivy League master’s degree.”

Kirk and Hope Fry, a mechanical engineer from small town Indiana and a food scientist from rural Appalachian Ohio, also discussed racial issues with their children from a young age. “I first learned about white flight at the dinner table when I was about 10 or 11,” Beth says, around the time she first started to see a large exodus from SEL schools.  “My parents’ decision to stay in SEL despite the massive shift in racial makeup was part of a desire for my brother and I to grow up around people that were different from us, to ensure that we were more comfortable with difference from an earlier age. We often joked that us staying in the district helped ensure diversity as many other white families left.  In recent years, they’ve articulated their reasoning for all this as ‘living their values.’ To them, one of the fundamental aspects of loving your neighbor is believing your kids aren’t too good for the schools that serve your community and actively investing in them.” The Frys have been South Euclid homeowners for over 25 years and have no plans of leaving anytime soon.

In the meantime, convincing families that a decision to use their local neighborhood schools is a decision that furthers racial equity can be a difficult argument to make if test scores and state rankings imply that they are providing a substandard educational environment for their children. Arguments that the state testing process is unfair, especially within diverse school districts, are valid, but those are often the only benchmarks that families use to compare districts. Beth further noted that, “Social networks often play a critical role as well, and if yours believe the community public schools with a high proportion of black students is inadequate, you’re likely to make decisions that support that view.”

If we truly want change, and if we are honest with ourselves, we must start with how our children are educated and with whom they sit alongside day after day.

The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to call attention to the inequities and injustice that have plagued people of color in our nation for centuries.  If we truly want change, and if we are honest with ourselves, we must start with how our children are educated and with whom they sit alongside day after day. As Richard Rothstein, author of the bestselling book The Color of Law, notes in a 2019 article, “Some might argue that ‘a black child does not have to sit next to a white child to learn.’ They are wrong. Not only should black children sit next to white children, but white children should sit next to black children.” Communities like South Euclid and Lyndhurst are in a unique position to be at the forefront of this discussion. Attending school with children of various races and ethnicities fosters understanding and acceptance, and lays the groundwork for enduring equality. More importantly, in a country where black Americans possess a tenth of the wealth of white Americans, diverse schools allow less-advantaged students to have access to the resources of the most-advantaged. Prioritizing school diversity, once a mandate for our nation that has long been abandoned, must again come to the forefront of discussions on creating racial equity. White flight from public schools is an act of covert white supremacy; the time has come for all of us to critically examine our own thoughts and choices, no matter how difficult. Our future depends on it. Let’s get to work.

White flight from public schools is an act of covert white supremacy; the time has come for all of us to critically examine our own thoughts and choices, no matter how difficult. Our future depends on it. Let’s get to work.



Why my family is voting yes on Issue 32

SEL LEVYThere are moments that stay with you forever.  Several years ago, I was sitting in Melissa Thompson’s office in tears. Our daughter wasn’t able to attend school anymore.  Crippling anxiety made it impossible. There were many days she could not manage to leave her room.  The school district had bent over backward offering every possible alternative, and we had sought every form of help imaginable, but nothing was working.  Formerly a good student, Sarah’s prospects were looking unthinkably bleak.  I had just used the letter we received recommending her for induction into the National Honor Society to get a lower rate on car insurance, but here we were.

Melissa asked me if anyone in our family had ever not finished high school—ever not finished college?  I whispered no.  It was our family’s tradition to graduate from college.  There was never a discussion.  It was assumed. Allowing a child to drop out of school was unthinkable.  Melissa provided a much-needed reality check that we must do what’s right for each child no matter what that looks like, no matter our usual world-view.  She assured me that many students that she has known who have dropped out ended up getting advanced degrees.  She said that this did not have to define the person my daughter would become. She handed me a GED prep guide which she placed in reusable shopping bag to hide it from wandering gazes. As I walked out of the administration building that day, the parent of a high school dropout, it occurred to me that our family, a family no one would suspect of bringing down the school’s graduation rate or state rankings, had just done our bit to make the South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools look a bit worse on paper. But it was the right decision for our daughter.

There is more behind the numbers and state rankings than you will ever know.  It’s a fact that schools with a large percentage of black and brown kids tend to do worse in the rankings.  The reasons are myriad—single parent homes, eviction history with spotty school attendance in multiple districts, kids who can’t get enough food to eat at home, or as in our case, mental health issues which are becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, especially among young people.  In addition, public schools must educate every child.  Developmentally disabled students are required to take the same state tests too.  Districts have an obligation to educate them in public schools, a privilege that developmentally disabled people like my older sister never had in the 60s and 70s. Because of this, these kids are achieving better outcomes than ever before, and SEL is known to be a district that does an outstanding job of meeting their needs—even if it means educating them until they are 21, if it’s in the best interest of the child.  Some districts will turn them out at age 18.  Not ours. This hurts our rankings, but we do it because it’s right.  That’s what it means to educate the whole child. If you look deeply, if you visit the schools, talk to families, and talk to teachers, you get a very different picture of our schools than state tests would have you believe.  The purpose of the SEL Experience Project blog is to scratch below the surface, to show the advantages to students of attending a diverse school district.  It’s almost uncanny how our graduates tend to favor professions that help forward social justice.  We have told story after story about this.  When you go to school every day with students who come from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, your world view changes.  It creates a deep desire to promote equity. That is a very special gift in our increasingly divided and fractured world.

Voting for a school levy is a vote for your community.  It’s a way of saying that every child matters.  That in our community, we value education, no matter what the students look like, no matter what they are struggling with, no matter what kind of home (or lack of a home) they return to at night.  Quality public education is critical—it’s the foundation of our democratic society.  It does no good to keep perpetuating segregation by cutting off funding and creating even more division between the “haves and have nots”.  It has to stop.  Yes, your taxes are too high.  Many things need to change at the state and regionally to fix the system.  School funding through property taxes has been declared unconstitutional. The system is broken and there are many working every day to fix it.  But in the meantime, this district has gone seven years without asking for more money. This was accomplished through solid fiscal management, and the yeoman’s work of those on the frontlines with these kids:  teachers, administrators, nurses, coaches, social workers. They need to be given the tools to do the best job they can. This community has always supported school levies. Every single time.  A yes vote is a way of saying that no matter what is happening in our world, our community is taking a stand for equity, fairness, and for the importance of children. Even if they look different from us.  That’s a pretty great return on the 66 cents a day this is going to cost us.

If for no other reason, vote yes on Issue 32 to help bolster your property values.  Communities that support their schools do better at attracting and retaining residents. Their property values are higher.  Even if you have no children in our schools—do it for the community.  Because it’s the right thing to do.

–Sally Martin


21 Students who will change the world

Brush NHS 2019

This year, the SEL Experience Project’s Sally Martin was the speaker at the Brush National Honor Society induction ceremony. It was a privilege to meet these outstanding students, who we are certain will be changing the world for the better. The following are the remarks that were shared at the ceremony:

One of the most surprising things that has come out of spending the last four years interviewing alumni and sharing stories on the SEL Experience Project blog, has been the almost uncanny way that the Brush grads we interviewed, almost without exception, have chosen professions where they can help others and level the playing field.  Whether they become doctors, lawyers, artists, or teachers, they often choose to serve the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised–the ones who need the most help in our increasingly divided society.   Often, they tell us that attending a diverse school system made them want to use their skills to make the world more united, fair, and equitable. They felt that SEL helped shape their world view, and made them better equipped to function in the wider world.  The examples are inspiring. Dr. Melanie Ferrara Finkenbinder, a primary care physician who works in an underserved Latino community in Columbus has helped create a free grocery store to provide her patients, who live in a food desert, with a reliable supply of fresh produce.  Ari Daniel Shapiro brings issues of climate change to national audiences as a science reporter for Public Radio International. Adina Pliskin is breaking the glass ceiling of Hollywood through her work as a Latina documentary filmmaker and producer.

Getting to the place of writing the blog came from some hard-won wisdom.  Like many white middle class parents, my husband and I were warned by well-meaning friends that we shouldn’t use the schools in South Euclid.  According to them, SEL Schools just weren’t good enough for our children. Since it was part of the family tradition anyway, we dutifully put our kids in Catholic School. When our son, Chris was in eighth grade, he announced that he was done with private school and wanted to attend Brush. Given that this kid was about the most stubborn child ever born, we relented.  Much to our surprise, Chris thrived at Brush, got an excellent education and especially enjoyed the incredible art education he received from Ms. Connor and Ms. Curry. In 2018, he graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he continues to live and work in the art field. When I became the Housing Director for the City of South Euclid in 2008, I saw how the lack of confidence in our schools was causing a reduction in our housing prices.  Realtors frequently mentioned concerns about the schools, and school rankings–which never tell the whole story– had been dropping.  When Brush grad, Beth Fry became my intern one summer, we realized that we both had grave concerns about what was happening as white families left the district.  The once balanced diversity that was the hallmark of SEL was rapidly shifting.  In less than 12 years, the district went from being 80 percent white to 80 percent black–a particularly strange phenomena since we weren’t seeing the same level of white flight in the populations of the two cities the district serves.  Both South Euclid and Lyndhurst are still majority white communities.

Sadly, this isn’t a unique problem.  According to award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, who points out in her recent New York Times article entitled, “It Was Never About Busing”, we have made little progress since the Supreme Court passed Brown vs. the Board of Education.  She reminds us that 65 years later, black students are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid 70s.

As our best and brightest, you have a special charge.  You are called to be the change.  My generation has failed.  Our society is divided like never before. When a school district has re-segregated, it should serve as a warning sign that our society has run off course. We look to you, as our future leaders, to change this firmly entrenched pattern of fear and separation. The noted author and psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler Ross said that there are only two emotions from which all other emotions arise:  fear and love. If you don’t actively choose love, you will find yourself in a place of fear.  Every moment offers the choice to choose one or the other. As we can see from what is happening in Washington, our society at large has chosen fear.  Your generation must change that.

Last Friday, I had the privilege to speak to a sold-out crowd at the City Club about the challenges of inner-ring suburbs, which was also being live-broadcast on WCPN (NO PRESSURE THERE!).  The subject of schools came up and I told the story of the blog and my family’s positive experiences with SEL Schools.  After the presentation, I was mobbed by people who praised me for having the courage to discuss race.  They said no one talks about this stuff.  That’s precisely the problem.  It’s the elephant in the room and it’s time we called it out.  One of my favorite poets, the late song writer Leonard Cohen, wrote a song entitled ‘Anthem’ that contains the following lyrics:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

It’s time to let the light in and speak our truth.  When I let go of my fear and decided to start talking about this, I found that it resonated with so many people and allowed them to step out of their fear too. When you are old enough to vote—make sure you do.  Urge the adults in your household to vote at every election.  This is critical.  It matters.  Never be afraid to speak the truth to power. Keep showing up and speak your truth.  We are proud of you.  We are depending on you.  I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.

Congratulations to the 2019-2020 Inductees and current members of Brush National Honor Society:

New Members:

Kaelum Adams                    Hailee Jones

Lillie Alshiekhtala                Alex Kumar

Aiyana Buckner                   Isabelle Lashley

Jessyka Camandillo             Sean Pierce

Dylan Dicenzi                       Jaslyn Rozier

Nathan Eckman                  Gwyneth Seddon

Gianni Fitch                          Darrien Smith

Raya Fitch                             Devin Suttles

Arthur Franklin                    Carla Wagner

Hali Hocker                          Alyssa Wiegand

Niah Johnson

Current Members:

Keenan Barnes                    Nikolas Anderson

Sloane Boukobza                Victoria Semler

Noah Turoff                          Suyee Chen

Shalea Williams                   Amber See

Devon Range, Class of 2011

Devon Range photoWhen Devon Range graduated in 2017 from the University of Chicago with his bachelor’s degree in Political Science, he could have accepted a lucrative career opportunity or gone straight to graduate school.  Instead, he is spending two years in Slavic Village at the Fullerton School of Academics through City Year Cleveland.   Devon assists in fourth and fifth grade classes with a focus on attendance, social and emotional growth, and coursework.  Together, he and his students work on setting goals to drive better results inside the classroom and out in the world.  His latest project involves starting a recycling program in the school.

Devon recalls struggling during his late elementary school years, having relocated from Cleveland Heights to South Euclid.  Settling into a new school district wasn’t always easy. “Ages 9 through 11 were not my favorite years,” Devon recalled. Things changed for the better when Brett Spicer became his teacher and coach.  Devon’s interactions with Mr. Spicer continued from junior high through high school. “I was having some academic issues in the 8th grade and Mr. Spicer sat me down and talked to me.  He helped me make up work and get back on track.  As a teacher and high school swimming coach, Mr. Spicer was great at team building and creating a sense of belonging”, said Devon.  Over time, academics became a high priority along with success in athletics.  During his years in South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools, Devon participated in wrestling, football, baseball, and soccer, as well as concert and marching band, National Honor Society, and Academic Challenge Team, among other things.

Devon’s strong academic and co-curricular activities served him well, as he was accepted to attend the University of Chicago where he participated on the wrestling and rugby teams.  After graduating with a political science degree, Devon decided to come back to Cleveland—lured back by the low cost of living as well as the proximity to his family.  Devon’s father is a teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and his mother is a vocational counselor.  His parents’ commitment to education influenced Devon’s decision to work in the City Year program.  As he looks to his future, Devon feels drawn to a career that combines his interest in the environment with public policy.  In his free time, he volunteers at Holden Arboretum, learning as much as he can about the region’s tree canopy.  “I spent so much of my time in the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation growing up, it had a big influence on me”, said Devon.

In reflecting on his time in SEL Schools, Devon recalls often hearing misconceptions about the district. “Growing up, I heard how the schools were becoming terrible, which was so untrue,” recalled Devon.     “I got a great education at SEL Schools which prepared me well for college and for success in life.”

Filmmaker Adina Pliskin, Brush Class of 2002

Adina PliskinProducer and Documentary filmmaker, Adina Pliskin admits that as a young teen, she was the person that parents warned their kids to stay away from.  “I was hanging out with a rough crowd, smoking, drinking, you name it”, she says.  Her upbringing in South Euclid was fraught with struggle, as her mother’s mental health issues and subsequent divorce from her father, forced Adina and her older brother Ariel to grow up quickly. These days, the busy producer/director is living in Los Angeles with her husband of four years, the Emmy-nominated comedian, Mike Lawrence.

Adina attended SEL Schools from K-12, and found the teachers there to be a lifeline when things got tough.  “In third grade when my parents got divorced, my teacher at Rowland, who was a Hungarian immigrant, took me aside and we had many conversations about what was happening, which made me feel less alone.  Because my parents were immigrants (from Argentina and Israel) too, I felt we had a special bond”, recalls Adina.  In addition to school, Adina took refuge in art.  “My grandparents had a deep love of arts and culture and made sure that I was exposed to art classes for kids at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  In spite of her grandparents’ positive influence, by the time Adina reached middle school, she was often getting into trouble.

Things changed when Adina joined a youth theater program called, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”—a program created by the Free Clinic of Cleveland that brought sketches about teen health issues into inner city schools. This was followed by a job with the AIDS Task Force, as a youth outreach worker where she handed out condoms and AIDS prevention information.  She created “zines” and flyers to help get the word out about safe sex. Adina had found her purpose in activism.

At Brush, Adina got involved with the art program.  Two brand new teachers, Sarah Curry and Hadley Conner became important influences in her life, as Adina found a home in the art department.  Ms. Curry encouraged Adina to consider moving to New York City following graduation to pursue her creative interests and meet like-minded people. Adina took her advice and obtained a degree in painting from Hunter College. During college, Adina spent a year abroad in Argentina, studying documentary filmmaking. Film was the fusion of Adina’s passion for art and her love of movies and television.

After graduation, Adina found work as a waitress while attempting to find jobs in film production.  A dinner out with a friend on Cinco de Mayo proved to be an unlikely turning point. “My friend and I were in a crowded restaurant, and woman knocked over my drink.  I recognized her from the show ‘Party of Five’.  It turned out that her companion was a documentary filmmaker.  He gave me his card.  I ended up working for him for four years”, recalled Adina. An impressive number of documentary film credits ensued.  One of the most memorable and poignant for Adina was a film about the Holocaust called Defiant Requiem.  Adina’s paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, so working on the project, which was filmed in Prague, held deep meaning.  Back in New York, a stint filming segments for Sesame Street ensued—a favorite project that remains close to Adina’s heart. “For several seasons, we did around six minutes of every episode of the show, producing the segments ‘Word on the Street’ and ‘Murray Has a Little Lamb’ featuring Murray the Monster”, said Adina. Comedy has also been a focus of much of Adina’s work.  Last year, Adina directed a four episode web series for Amazon profiling four young female comedians to accompany the series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  She also produced and directed six shorts for Harper Collins starring Abigail Breslin.

In 2010, Adina met Mike Lawrence.  The two bonded over their love for bad zombie movies, and by the third date, they knew that they were meant to be together.  They were married in 2014. During the summer of 2017, the couple relocated from New York City to L.A.

Adina feels the recent publicity around the near-daily reports of sexual abuse scandals perpetrated by powerful men, is helping to call attention to the plight of women, especially in male dominated industries like film.  “The industry is very misogynistic. There are not many women behind the camera.  It’s hard to get respect and I’ve found I have to prove myself over and over”, said Adina.

Adina wholeheartedly agrees with the observations of writer Lindy West who said, “The solution is putting people into positions of power who are not male, not straight, not cisgender, not white.  This is not taking something away unfairly—it is restoring opportunities that have been historically withheld.”

These days, as a seasoned producer and director, Adina is most interested in telling stories with strong, fully developed female characters.  According to Adina, “Things are finally changing.  Female driven stories are selling tickets”.  Woman like Adina Pliskin are blazing a trail for the next generation of female directors. We can’t wait to see her next act.

Ari Daniel Shapiro, Valedictorian, Class of 1997, brings science reporting to the world through public radio.

Ari Daniel HeadshotIf you’ve tuned in to National Public Radio any time in the last eight years, you’ve likely heard the familiar voice of Ari Daniel Shapiro.  This former Brush Valedictorian is now a regular presence on NOVA, Public Radio International’s The World, and other public media programs.  Shapiro, who uses the name Ari Daniel professionally to avoid confusion with another NPR reporter, has used his background as a scientist to bring award-winning science reporting to the masses.

Ari’s fascination with science began in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools. “I had Nora Doerder for AP Biology my junior year.  I loved the lectures and labs.  She cultivated and celebrated curiosity and had high expectations of her students”, recalled Ari. “I remember coming back from spring break with a list of things I wanted to learn more about.  Ms. Doerder helped me research them one by one.”  Ari Daniel’s curiosity and love of learning was not limited to science.  A favorite memory from his SEL years was the personal attention he received from Spanish teacher, Jonetta Anderson.  “During Spanish II, I had a desire to learn more. Sra. Anderson took me on to do an independent study.  I worked every day in the back of her class on my own, and she and I would review my progress and speak in Spanish every Friday after school.  During my junior and senior years, she often drove me to school so that we could spend a half hour conversing in Spanish in the car. Even her husband got involved, helping to prepare me for the AP Spanish Literature exam”, said Ari, who remains fascinated by languages,  is proficient in French, and is currently learning Arabic.

According to Ari, there was never a question that he would attend SEL Schools. “I come from a family of educators.  My father taught in Cleveland Public Schools for 31 years and my mother was a professor at John Carroll, Case, and now U Mass Boston.  Our family values education, especially public education.  I got a great education at SEL Schools that rivaled or exceeded any private school.”

Ari, who graduated with the highest GPA on record for Brush High School at that time, went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biology at Boston College, then became a Fulbright Scholar, studying Animal Behavior at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, obtaining a Master’s degree in Animal Behavior, then finally obtaining his Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography in June of 2008 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Between his Fulbright year and work on his Ph.D., Ari worked for a year in a service corps program called Avodah as a Legal Advocate for the Urban Justice Center, representing recipients of public assistance at fair housing hearings and engaging in housing advocacy for low income and homeless clients.  He has continued his commitment to serving others in a variety of ways, including serving as an elementary school math tutor and tax preparer for low income clients.

Ari’s transition from scientist to science reporter was a way to connect his love of science to his commitment to social and environmental justice with a dose of the theatrical thrown in.  He has been involved in theater since middle school, finding it the perfect balance to his academic pursuits.  Journalism seemed like the ideal way to pull all of those passions together.  Fate intervened during the summer before Ari’s last year in graduate school.  He volunteered to speak at an ocean science program for journalists offered by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he proclaimed his interest in radio publicly.  After his talk, one of the journalists in attendance suggested that he check out, a resource for those interested in public radio.  Transom’s mission is to help put new voices on the radio.  He discovered the fascinating coincidence that Transom, and its parent company, Atlantic Public Media, are located in Woods Hole, next door to the building where Ari had been attending academic meetings for years.

An informational interview followed with a producer from Atlantic Public Media and Ari began producing short 30-60 second pieces featuring scientists talking about their research. He loved it, and a career in journalism was born.

Since that time, Ari has traveled the world producing segments on a wide range of diverse topics such as climate change on a melting glacier in Greenland, solar energy production in Spain, quantum entanglement, and how mathematicians might serve as expert witnesses for gerrymandering legal cases.  Most recently, NOVA received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to conduct timely reporting on the science angle in the news.  Ari is creating roughly three digital videos per month for Facebook and other social platforms that highlight the role that science plays in current affairs.  In addition to this reporting, Ari has produced a series of digital, interactive games on science topics for NOVA.

When asked to recount a favorite story of his career, Ari shares one of the first radio stories he produced for PRI’s The World.  While traveling to France to present a paper from his dissertation, he interviewed Iegor Reznikoff, an older Frenchman who was practiced in the art of ancient chanting. Reznikoff posited that within caves, the sections decorated with ancient paintings were the most resonant places to chant.  Ari recorded Reznikoff chanting within a cave in Burgundy, France and the experience has stayed with him. “When I heard his song entering my recorder, I felt like I was listening to the most precious lullaby.  And I was so grateful that I’d be able to share that lullaby with others.”

Ari and his wife Ghinwa Choueiter, a computer scientist, live in Boston with their 14-month-old daughter, Leila.

Find out more about Ari Daniel’s work at To hear Ari’s story on cave chanting, click here.

Photo Credit:  Amanda Kowalski

Nikki Woods, Class of 2008, Director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Reinberger Gallery, on the value of arts education.

Nwoods_headshotI am a proud product of the SEL school system, from elementary school through high school. Upon graduation from Brush High School in 2008, I was accepted into The Cleveland Institute of Art on a scholarship, and studied painting. Some people would say that pursuing a career in the fine arts after the economic crash was a foolish one—that there are no real career prospects given a painting degree (real being the pejorative term to mean financially viable). I strongly disagree. The creative economy is responsible for over 704 billion dollars of yearly economic growth nationally, and employs over 4.7 million wage and salary workers. These industries range widely from independent artists and galleries, to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, the theater and film industries, etc… the list goes on and on. Beyond strictly arts industry careers, studies have proven that an education in the arts promotes a level of creative problem solving that is useful in the business field. After all, aren’t successful CEOs often-labeled visionaries?

I participated in a number of influential arts programs in SEL schools that helped to foster a future passion for a career in the arts. At Greenview Upper Elementary, I started in band, which then lead to playing drum set in the school jazz ensemble at Memorial Jr. High, which lead to playing center snare in the high school marching band drum line. During this time I also developed a deep love for reading and making from the classes I took in painting, darkroom photography, ceramics, art history, AP Studio, and AP British and American Literature. All of these classes and activities created a ripple that began to expand its reach deeper, and deeper into my life. The effects of which were both nuanced and life changing.

I found role models in my art teachers and their seemingly never-ending passion for their craft, and dedication to their students.  What other public high school had the privilege of working with art teachers who were also professional artists? I saw fellow students engaged in ways that no other subject had previously interested them. The communities that resulted, were built on understanding, thoughtfulness, and non-judgment– and become a refuge for many who felt they had no other source of acceptance. Most importantly, these practices created outlets for self-expression, and in turn, helped to develop self-esteem and self worth for my peers as well as myself.

I am currently a practicing artist and the Acting Director of the Reinberger Gallery of the Cleveland Institute of Art. My job is to curate programming that connects with our students and neighboring communities, and to create artwork that I believe contributes to the culture at large. I attribute my career, successes, problem solving skills, and leadership confidence to the strong foundations set by the outstanding arts and liberal arts education programs at SEL schools. I can say with certainty that I would not be the person I am today without these direct influences. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of research based articles, online and elsewhere, lauding the importance of the arts in an education curriculum. I’m sure you would agree, that given our current climate, one of our best defenses towards hate filled rhetoric, is a robust education in critical thinking and thoughtful questioning. We want to create future citizens who care about their community, have the courage to question authority, generate hope in others, and the vision to build a better future. There are no better role models than the art teachers at SEL schools to help shape this future, and it would be a thoughtless shame to ever lose them.

To find out more about Nikki’s work, check out her blog:


Reflections on the Brush Art Program from the South Pacific by Jamie Bloss, Class of 2007

Jamie Bloss

Experiencing photography and painting classes with Ms. Hadley Conner and Ms. Sarah Curry was probably one of the biggest highlights of my high school experience for many reasons. I was a quiet person in high school and struggled to find a place where I fit in. I didn’t want much attention, and the dark room of Ms. Conner’s photography lab was a place I could feel safe and be creative and find a way to express myself. I feel that’s important for high schoolers now more than ever before. It’s really hard to navigate that time. It’s only been ten years since I was in high school but things have moved really fast and changed a lot. Not only were both teachers mentors and friends to me, but their art classes made me a more well-rounded person. It helped with my admission to college. It furthered my understanding of art and why it is so important.

Skills I learned in photography class help me to this day. Learning how to set up a scene in a photo is something that needs to be taught in design classes as well. Now when I am designing promotional materials at my job, doing the social media for it, taking photos at events- I can remember the basic tenets of photography that were taught to me then. My painting class was also a safe haven for me 1st period with Ms. Curry. I was always into doing watercolors and things like that but she taught me how to properly paint. This gave me a creative outlet that lasted through my college years and beyond. Now I have to design attractive displays at my library job and the drawing and painting skills I learned and honed in high school allow me to do that. No one ever told me when I was getting my master’s in library science at Kent State that you’d need that creative spark for marketing and museum displays, but it has helped me immensely. It’s those extra skills that help you stand out from the crowd when you’re interviewing for jobs.

After high school I completed my bachelor’s degree with honors from Kent State University in 2011. I obtained a graduate assistantship from the Kent State Honors College which paid for my master’s degree which I received in 2013. Since then I have held a library assistant job at the Kent State Geauga campus, then worked for a year as a librarian at Hudson Library & Historical Society. From there I applied for and received a 3 year contract to work abroad at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji which I am currently completing.

I know one of the most important things you need in high school are teachers who believe in you and foster skills in you that you did not know you had. I don’t know if later on I would’ve done as well in school and at university without kind teachers who gave us a way to express ourselves and believed in us. I know many people think the arts are unnecessary or don’t give relevant job skills. But the design and artistic skills I learned aid me every day in my work managing the social media for the library at the University of the South Pacific. I have to create museum displays and being able to put together a cohesive display with images and text is something that is taught through art programs. But- make no mistake- the fine arts stand on their own as well! I may be a librarian but I also know many people from Brush High School who went on to pursue degrees in fine arts and are very successful. My art skills helped me when I applied for the Kent State honors college and then they funded me through my master’s degree. When admissions workers look at college applications they look at you being a well-rounded individual- not just what job skills you may have learned in high school.

I often bragged to people after I left Brush that we had better darkrooms and materials than some universities even had. I appreciated so much the chance to learn those skills and find part of myself through art. I needed that as a high school student when I was having trouble at home. There are skills and benefits to be learned in the arts that other subjects don’t touch on. As a violinist I hope that students today have the chance to learn more about the arts- music, film, photography, painting, and more because what kind of a society would we have without the fine arts? Those are the things worth living for, not the mundane everyday jobs we hold. It’s possible to find a job with a way to earn money to live on and still appreciate the arts and grow up learning about them. They should not be defunded, abolished, or replaced with facsimiles of “art classes.” I hope Brush High School would continue their legacy of having stellar art classes for students. It will only help them as they develop into young adults and inspire them to reach further than their everyday expectations.

Introducing SEL Art Advocates

If you ask around, one of the most positive things you’ll hear about Brush High School is the quality of the art instruction.  The reputation of the art department was one of the main reasons we allowed our son to transfer into Brush from private school.  In our family’s experience, the art department at Brush is run much like a college of art and design.  The instructors focus on their primary discipline and all are working and award-winning artists.  Instead of having generic art classes taught by instructors who teach all general aspects of art, if one takes a photography class at Brush, there’s reasonable assurance that it will be taught by Hadley Conner—an award-winning photographer.  She gave our son a lasting passion for film photography—something he is putting to good use in his senior year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sarah Curry has given many Brush graduates a passion for painting and drawing.  This is obvious by the number of Brush students and Brush graduates who attend the openings of her art shows around town, and cite Ms. Curry’s influence as inspiration for pursuing their own art careers.

It would be impossible to overstate that the dedication of the Brush art teachers has led to positive, sometimes life-changing outcomes for many of their students. Many students who may never have considered a career in art, found their passion at Brush and have gone on to pursue impressive careers in art.

Brush students consistently rank among the top in local and regional art competitions.  Entering these competitions requires the teachers to go above and beyond to help the students prepare and submit their work.  Each year our students receive scholarships, and sometimes full scholarships to art school.

Art education is under threat.  Funding for art programs is being cut at the federal level and we have an administration in Washington that clearly does not value public education.  There is always a temptation when funding becomes scarce, to reduce or eliminate classes, like art and music, that are considered to be electives.  What can we do?  It’s time to be engaged as families and start standing up for the value of art education.  We can’t take it for granted.  We need to work together to ensure that our children and those to come, have access to the best quality art education in South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools.  It’s something that truly sets our district apart, yet it can be so easily lost.

Brush bridge paintingTo further this goal, I am proposing that we gather together to discuss what’s happening and brainstorm ways we can work together to address the challenges we’re facing.  Please join us on Sunday, July 23rd from 3-5 pm for our inaugural meeting of SEL Art Advocates! We’ll be meeting at 1515 South Belvoir Blvd. in South Euclid.   I promise it will be time well spent.  Look for a calendar invitation posted on SEL Experience’s Facebook page!  –Sally Martin