Betting on our Community

If the tragic loss of Alec Kornet has taught us anything, it has shown the power and love that exists in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst community.  We are there for each other in good times and bad.  What little we have, we are willing to share.  We’ve all endured the negative comments about our schools and our community.  We know what a treasure we have here, but  we forced to endure the barbs and slights that are based on “alternate facts”, not reality.  When a tragedy happens, the outpouring comes, reminding us of why we still call this place home.  We love this place.  We love each other.

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The trick is finding the energy and time to keep this outpouring of love going every day.  We’re all busy–too busy.  Our email in-boxes are overflowing.  We have to be in three places at once.  Everyone needs our time and our energy.  We’re tired.  Yet, right now our kids and school district need us.  Public education is under siege at the federal and state level.  What can we do?  Acting locally is best place to start.

A group of hard-working busy parents have been planning an event that they’ve planned every year for many years.  The Brown and Gold Night at the Races is a fun evening for those who attend, but most importantly, it raises funds for scholarships for our graduating seniors.  This year, it will be held on  Saturday, March 11th at the Lyndhurst Community Center at 6 pm. Click here to get the form you need to participate.  It needs to be submitted by Wednesday, March 8th. Either mail it or drop it off at South Euclid City Hall.

How can you help?  Attend by purchasing a ticket for $25. Buy a horse for $25.  Buy an ad. Donate an item for a raffle prize. It’s an evening with good food and drink and a chance to be in the company of other folks who believe in our schools and our kids.  This is more important than ever.  This is what our community is about.  See you on Saturday.

 

 

 

“While I’d never say there is anything good to come out of this tragedy, the response from the community has served as a reminder of how special and underappreciated SEL is. Over the years, we’ve seen many move away in search of greener pastures of perceived school superiority or “better” neighborhoods. We’ve heard and felt the underlying questions about why we are still here. Well…this is why.”-Eric Eckman

On Tuesday, February 14, our community lost a wonderful young man in the most startling and devastating way. Alec Kornet, a seemingly healthy, athletic, 17-year old died after having trouble breathing at hockey practice with absolutely no prior problems or symptoms.

Alec was a very special young man, an honors student, leader on the hockey, baseball, and soccer teams as well as the marching band and just a universally loved person. To lose such a promising young soul in such a shocking way shook our community to its core.

However, the South Euclid-Lyndhurst (SEL) community has rallied around the Kornet family and each other in an overwhelming way. While I’d never say there is anything good to come out of this tragedy, the response from the community has served as a reminder of how special and underappreciated SEL is. Over the years, we’ve seen many move away in search of greener pastures of perceived school superiority or “better” neighborhoods. We’ve heard and felt the underlying questions about why we are still here. Well…this is why.

We’re proud of our diversity, we’re proud of our school district, we’re proud of our students, and we’re proud of our families. We are truly a community in every sense of the word. While we mourn the loss of Alec Kornet, we are reminded of how special SEL is and in remembering and honoring him, we grow even stronger together.

Eric Eckman

Lyndhurst

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A New Way to CARE about SEL Schools

On the evening of January 19th, 25 people came to the South Euclid Lyndhurst Public Library and spent two hours in a productive and passionate dialogue about our SEL Schools.  Personal stories were shared, rumors were confronted, hopes and dreams for the future of our schools were discussed, and an idea was born.

SEL CARES (Caring About Results for Every Student), is an idea that has come out of this conversation.  It’s a grass roots effort to involve more community stakeholders in our schools.  During the meeting, volunteers signed up to serve each school building, making the commitment to host informal meetings and get more involved in the schools by attending Board of Education meetings and staying present in the schools and with other parents. These groups hope to allay the fears of parents at times of transition to other school buildings, such as when students are moving from their elementary building to Greenview.  Parents who have already been through these transitions will host meetings to answer questions and hopefully reassure these parents of a smooth transition. Those in attendance felt that this was an important missing link and that many families are lost at transition times.

As many of you know, the SEL Experience Project is a grass roots initiative to share stories and dispel negative rumors about our school district that has led to white flight and community disinvestment.  This meeting was the second community conversation we’ve convened since beginning this work.  The conversation was important and eye-opening.  We wanted to share the highlights here to keep the dialogue going and increase community engagement.

Positives

Many personal stories were shared of the kindness of staff, teachers, and students who went the extra mile to help or made students feel accepted and helped them to excel.  The diversity of our schools was cited as a big positive, the majority feeling that it has led to students being more social justice oriented and inclusive. Academics are considered very strong at SEL Schools, and much pride exists for the new exercise science facility and all of the AP and enrichment programs like Excel Tech, that help make students career-ready. Art and music are considered strong programs that set the district apart. The incredible success of many of our students in academics, art, sports, and enrichment activities were cited as a positive. SEL students are going to great colleges and are out in world achieving high levels of success. Overall, attendees felt that it’s important to keep sharing the positive stories and use new methods of communication to reach the people who need to hear it the most.

Negatives

Among attendees, there was a strong feeling that the faculty are not as valued and supported as they should be.  There appears to be strife between the faculty and administration which is causing dissatisfaction among teachers and could result in the loss of good teachers as they pursue other opportunities, or apathy and a loss of teacher-led programming like clubs.  There was a feeling of a lack of transparency from the administration, especially regarding explanations about the funding  sources for new projects and the elimination of certain programs.  It was suggested that a bigger effort was needed on the part of the administration to recruit and retain families and staff.  The schools may not be effectively selling themselves to compete with private options and other districts. Police presence on Mayfield Road at dismissal may be causing additional negative perceptions.  The District may not be fully addressing the real concerns that parents have like discipline issues within the school buildings and on school buses.  Some concerns were expressed that sports is being emphasized to the detriment of academics.

Overall, it was felt that by increasing community engagement and by recognition of the concerns of faculty and a greater effort at team building, any negatives could be transformed to positives, building on all the great qualities already in place. It is our hope that all parties come together to keep promoting the many positives of SEL Schools, work aggressively to address the concerns, and help build the support of the community. It’s about working together for our kids. If you would like to be part of SEL CARES, please email us at selexperienceproject@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Monsieur LaPlanche brought the world to Brush High School’s students for over 29 years

Parlez Vous Francais?  If you answered Oui , and if you graduated from Brush High School in the past 29 years, then you certainly know one of the recent and most beloved retirees, Monsieur LaPlanche. 

Jean-David LaPlanche is a legend at Charles F. Brush High School, having taught French and four years of German there since 1987.  laplanche

Mr. LaPlanche was born in Paris to a French mother and then moved to the Cleveland area when he was eight years old.  He graduated from Mentor High School and then Heidelberg College with a Bachelor’s degree in French literature and German language. 

He went on to study at the University of Strasbourg in France and finished his master’s degree at Lake Erie College before beginning his teaching career in 1986 at the Andrews School.  Two years  later he was hired by the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School system to teach both French and German.  Before his first year of teaching had ended, Mr. LaPlanche had planned a summer field trip to France for his students, and since that initial trip, he has taken hundreds of students on 28 trips to France, Italy, Germany, Austria, England and Switzerland.  Believing that experiencing different cultures firsthand is an important part of foreign language study, Mr. LaPlanche has made it a priority to work with travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, and local citizens in those countries to give his students a wide variety of enriching experiences on these summer trips.   Many students will never forget what it was like to try escargot for the first time or talk to French shopkeepers or see the magnificent structures such as Notre Dame in Paris or the Coliseum in Rome.  

Using his creativity involved not only journeying to Europe, though.  According to Mr. LaPlanche, “Anything can be taught in an honest way,” so he developed French menus and set up tables with a “French atmosphere” in the Brush cafeteria, having students write skits to go along with the situation.  Those skits actually became the precursor for the most successful project the French students at Brush ever participated in—that of the Cannes Film Festival—Brush style!  According to Mr. LaPlanche, these very extravagant skits took hours of planning time, both for the students and for him because for every winning category of film—Best Film, Best French Accent (Male),  Best French Accent (Female), Best Marquee, etc.—he would create a trophy!  The kids had a great time, working at the library outside of school, writing scripts, filming scenes and then editing them, creating a memorable learning experience for all.

Many students who never spoke a word of French were also privileged to become acquainted with Mr. LaPlanche thanks to his generous volunteering of time as the Student Council adviser for 12 years, senior class adviser for 10, junior class adviser, for 4, and the adviser of the yearbook for one year.  In addition to those time-consuming activities, he served as chair for the foreign language department for 15 years during the time when Brush offered not only French and Spanish, but also German, Chinese and even Japanese.

Outside of the classroom, Mr. LaPlanche has gone to the dogs . . . literally! Since 1975, he has bred and shown dogs, both Salukes and Afghan hounds, professionally, and for the past 28 years, he has served as a judge at dog shows all over the world.  This second profession has brought great joy to Mr. LaPlanche and blessed him with friends in dozens of countries.  

Now, in retirement of sorts, this dynamic teacher can be found substituting at Brush when he is not flying to China or Norway or France, or any variety of countries to judge dog shows and meet up with new friends and colleagues.  When Jean-David was a student at Heidelberg, one of his favorite professors told him, “In order to be successful, you must strive to be the best,” and wherever you find Mr. LaPlanche,  you will find him living out that maxim.  Thank you, Mr. LaPlanche, for giving us your best and continuing to enrich our lives in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools.  –Kathryn Falkenberg

“I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”–Dr. Melanie (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian, Class of 2000

SEL teachers are always making a difference in the lives of their students, although they may not realize how much of a lasting difference they’re making every day. Melanie Kay (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian of the Class of 2000, spoke with us recently about what she’s been up to since graduation and how her  teachers and her time at South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools influenced the person she has become.

Working now as a primary care physician at Lower Lights Christian Health Center in Columbus, Melanie serves the Latin American immigrant population. She is also a medical student educator and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. “The part of Columbus our clinic serves is a food desert. There are few grocery stores in the area and many of our patients are food insecure. One new initiative in our health center is the addition of a free ‘grocery store’ right in our building.” Melanie is devoted to improving the health of Columbus’s Latino population—making sure they have equal access to health care in spite of the poverty and discrimination she sees her patients face everyday.

After leaving Brush, Melanie attended Washington University in St. Louis and went on to medical school at The Ohio State University. Melanie is married to David, a structural engineer, and they have two sons: Paul (3) and Henry (1).

Melanie’s Spanish language classes at Brush have paid off, as did her semester abroad in Chile during college. She uses her foreign language skills every day as she speaks Spanish to her patients and to her children at home. In discussing her time at Brush, Melanie reflects on the classes and teachers that made a difference in her life and helped shape her future. “Ms. Doerder’s AP Biology class was hugely formative. It’s how I, and at least six of my classmates become interested in medical science, and decided to become physicians. melanie-finkenbinder-picture

The AP teachers and their hands-on approach influenced me to excel. Ms. Cassidy, Mr. Welsh, Mr. Mastrobuono, Mr. Nemecek, and Ms. Clemson helped me to become a leader and learn to work as a team member.” In addition to her AP classes, Melanie was very involved at Brush, serving on Student Congress, participating in the theater program, and being part of the softball, soccer, and swimming teams.

Melanie’s future goal is to move with her family to a developing country to help set up a health system from the ground up. This desire to help the underserved and level the playing field is common among many Brush graduates. Melanie feels that attending SEL Schools made a difference in her perspective about the world. “The more that we continue to segregate ourselves by skin color and religion, the more we will continue to misunderstand each other.  I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”

“We don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world?” –Mary Noakes Mosquera, Brush Valedictorian 2010

In her 2010 Valedictory speech, Mary Noakes Mosquera had some sage advice for her fellow Brush graduates: “We define greatness and success for ourselves.” Mary has been defining her own success in the years since her graduation. After graduating summa cum laude from the Dietetics program at Ohio State University and completing her Dietetic Internship at Bradley University, Mary moved to Long Island in New York where she accepted a position as a Registered Dietician at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. She hopes to someday open her own private practice, centered on nutrition education and stress management through yoga and meditation.

Mary considers her SEL school career to have been a positive experience that helped shape her world view and set her up for success in life. “Attending a diverse school and making friends with people who were different from me helped in my academic career as well as in my professional life”. She mentioned that when she arrived at Ohio State some of her classmates had a harder time interacting with different kinds of people and seemed less open minded. “Attending SEL Schools made me realize that no matter what someone looks like, we all have the same wants and needs.”

When she thinks back on her school career, Mary recalls many memorable teachers who made their subjects come alive for her. “I had Mr. Beck for freshman English. He challenged everyone to do their best and inspired me to work hard and find meaning in what I was learning. That’s why he was my favorite teacher.” She recalled his creative lesson plans and the way he would go above and beyond every day to make students want to learn. Mary acknowledges that the negative perceptions of SEL Schools caused her and her classmates to work harder to prove that those perceptions were unfounded. “The perception of being ‘less than’ made us work harder to be ‘more than”, recalls Mary.

In August of 2014, Mary married her OSU classmate, Juan Mosquera, who now works at a non-profit devoted to helping kids learn to cope with negative emotions through yoga and meditation, called YES! For Schools. The couple hopes to someday move back to Ohio, but for now are enjoying their lives in New York.

In closing, Mary offers these words: “To any parent who is worried about the diverse environment at SEL Schools preventing their kid from getting a good education, don’t be. Sure, diversity can be messy and complicated, but we don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world? I’ve heard it said that ‘our diversity will not be a barrier, but rather a reason for our success’.  And in my educational experience, that’s been completely true.”Mary Mosquera

A Place for Everyone

Laurie Kowalski tells a story about the Brush Track team that sums up her feelings about South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools.  “When my son Charlie, who has special needs, arrived at a track meet and realized he had forgotten his money for concessions, he became openly distressed.  Members of the track team saw how upset he had gotten and they all ran to him opening their wallets and making sure he knew that they would  take care of anything he needed. The generosity and acceptance from the students at SEL Schools has been amazing.”

Lyndhurst residents Laurie and Jim Kowalski have three children:  Kristen, 23; Alex, 19; and Charlie, 18.  Both Alex and Charlie have special needs.  The Kowalskis credit SEL staff for helping each of their children realize a  high level of achievement.

Kristen, class of 2011, is an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Pittsburgh. While at Brush she excelled at sports and academics, and thrived in many extra curricular activities.  She was accepted into the OT program at Pitt as an incoming freshman– an impressive accomplishment.  This summer she received a scholarship to work abroad for five weeks in New Zealand, working with adults with developmental disabilities.  She will then be interning at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis and at the Cleveland Clinic for the remainder of the summer.  Kristen’s desire to help those with disabilities began when she was a child, influenced by her brothers’ special needs and the diversity she experienced first-hand during her SEL education.

Alex, class of 2015, has Down syndrome, and spent his SEL career in an inclusive classroom setting. He is currently working in the community through Cuyahoga East Vocational Educational Consortium (CEVEC).  This summer he is working at TJ Maxx and will be working next fall at the Mandel JCC and is exploring college options.

Charlie,  class of 2017, will be starting his senior year at Brush next fall.  He started his SEL career as one of the first students in the Autism unit at Sunview School, and has a special aptitude for computers and art.  He was accepted into the Excel Tech graphic design program, and is exploring college options to pursue a career in a related field.

Laurie, who is employed by The Upside of Downs, (an organization that provides support, education, and advocacy for people with Down syndrome, their families and communities) serves special needs families in 16 counties throughout Ohio, and feels that SEL Schools provide some of the best special needs programming in the state. “The inclusive atmosphere and acceptance of all kids has made our special education experience exceptional.  Our kids have been included not only academically, but their experience in extra curricular activities, particularly sports, has been amazing.”

Laurie credits the athletic department  for going above and beyond for her children. “The coaching staff has been amazing to our kids–in particular swimming, cross-country, and track.  The athletic director and staff always made our kids part of the team and made them better athletes as well.  Their encouragement and caring have made a big difference in their confidence.”  When asked what she wished people knew about SEL Schools, Laurie adds, “I wish that people knew what an incredible staff SEL has, and how they shouldn’t judge the schools by hearsay.   All of our children have different needs from advanced classes to special education needs.  The staff in the district has worked tirelessly to make sure all of those needs were met and to ensure that all of our kids excelled. People should experience the schools for themselves and they may be pleasantly surprised. At SEL Schools, there is a place for everyone.”

 

Kowalski family

SEL’s Jason Pryor: Pursuing the Olympics and Life with Passion and Purpose

South Euclid native Jason Pryor, 28, is on his way to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil to compete in the fencing competition on August 9.

A 2008 graduate of Brush High School, Jason was encouraged by his parents Brenda and Eric from a very young age to try new activities with passion and purpose. “My parents always encouraged me to go for what I wanted to do and experience new things like travel, music, culture, food,” said Pryor. “They always encouraged me that if I wanted to pursue something, I should go for it.”

His dedication to commitment to success has made him the Number One Fencer in the United States and the only member of the U.S. Team that will compete in this year’s summer games. Recently, Pryor also won the bronze at the 2015 Pan American Games and last year upset France’s Gauthier Grumier, the world’s No. 1 ranked fencer at a competition in Doha, Qatar.

Pryor grew up on Stillmore Road in South Euclid with his siblings Jarod, 30 and Taryn, 26 in a home where his parents, Brenda & Eric still reside. After graduating from Brush High School in 2005, he attended Ohio State University where he led their fencing team to the NCAA championships. Pryor got his start in fencing at a young age, which led him to winning the Bronze Medal as a cadet at the 2003 nationals. “I had to chase the feeling of what it was to win all those bouts and stand on the podium.”

Pryor has spent the last six years as a full-time resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and is currently training for the Rio Olympics at the New York Athletic Club, where he has helped the club win four team championships.

Even though Pryor has always had an interest in fencing, he has also pursued many other interests, including music and writing. At Brush High School he played Sax in the Marching Band and Clarinet in the Concert Band. At Ohio State University, Jason earned a BA in English and plans on pursuing a career in writing screenplays for movies and television after retiring from fencing. He credits his English teachers at Brush for encouraging him to pursue writing.

“I had some of the most amazing teachers in all subjects, but my favorite teachers were my English teachers,” said Pryor. “The incredible length my teachers went to show me how amazing literature could be started me on the path to wanting to write screenplays.”

Pryor sees the connection between athletics, academics and being successful in a chosen career.  They all require a dedication and commitment to practice, training and perfecting technique. “You really need to dedicate an incredible amount of time to the details to getting what you want and always pushing towards the next goal,” said Pryor.

“I was a mediocre fencer when I was a teenager and over the years I’ve had to work hard in order to raise my game, climb the ranks and start jumping hurdles and obstacles that seemed impossible,” said Pryor.  “Having that knowledge that I can achieve in one of the most difficult sports has helped shaped my attitude that, if I work hard I can achieve success in the future.”

Another correlation between preparing for athletics and achieving other life goals is being prepared mentally and emotionally for whatever obstacles lie ahead and learning how not to let negative thoughts get in the way of achieving success whether in preparing for competition, job interview or pursuing future career goals.

“I allow my mind to experience negative thoughts, but then I imagine myself writing the negativity on the piece of paper and then I imagine burning the piece of paper and dismissing it,” said Pryor.

After the Olympics, Jason has no intention of retiring from competition and hopes to compete in the next Olympic Games in four years. However, he will also spend more time following his passion for writing and pursuing a career in television and filmmaking, having already written television pilots and screenplays for film. Whatever comes his way, Pryor is willing to putting in whatever time and effort it takes to be successful.

“I have an incredibly long and intense amount of focus,” said Pryor. “It’s not a question of whether or not I will succeed because the level of stress I have had as a competitive athlete and learning how to deal with that stress, makes anything else feel like child’s play.”–Reprinted with permission from South Euclid Magazine.Jason Pryor 1

“If we won the lottery today, we’d never leave South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools”

Chances are if you have been to an event at the South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools, you’ve run into Jodi and Frank Turk.  To say that the Turk family is involved in SEL Schools is an understatement.  From being the Chair of the Scholarship Committee, the President of Arc Boosters, running the Brown and Gold Banquet, and heading the prom committee among a myriad of other volunteer roles, Jodi Turk’s energy and enthusiasm for our schools is unsurpassed and awe-inspiring.  Her motivation comes from the tremendous support that she and her family has received from the school district over the years.  “The teachers have been my rock”, says Jodi as she recounts the struggles her daughter Gabby has endured since being diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer at age 11.  When Gabby faced yet another of her seven surgeries and fell behind in her classes at Brush, the teachers rallied around the family and came to their home over winter break to help Gabby catch up.  Due to the extraordinary support Gabby received, she did catch up, graduated with her class in 2015, and is now a freshman at the University of Akron.

The three Turk children have had great experiences in SEL Schools.  Rachelle, Class of 2013, was involved in Excel Tech, orchestra, volleyball, and many clubs throughout her time at Brush, and is now a junior at Cleveland State majoring in Business.  Adam, Class of 2018, is in band, and plays football, soccer, basketball, and baseball at Brush. In spite of her health concerns, Gabby played volleyball, was part of the cosmetology program through Excel Tech, and participated in orchestra.

Although for many years, Jodi Turk has been an outspoken advocate for SEL Schools, that wasn’t always the case.  When their oldest daughter was heading to Greenview, the Turks had heard many negative rumors and began to question whether they wanted to continue in the district. Even though they’d had a great experience at the elementary level, the Turks were so alarmed by the rumors that they listed their Lyndhurst home for sale and began looking at other school districts.  Due to difficulty in quickly selling their home, the Turks decided to stay put and try Greenview for one year.  “We found out the rumors were wrong.  Greenview turned out to be a phenomenal school.  All of our children had outstanding teachers throughout their time in the district”, explained Jodi.  The Turk family’s opinion of the schools goes beyond acknowledging the outstanding teaching staff and curriculum.  “Our Superintendent Linda Reid is a powerhouse.  Our Board of Education is incredible too.  SEL Schools have so much to offer.  Fear and misinformation have caused some families to overlook our schools and that’s a huge loss to the community”, said Jodi.  “If we won the lottery today, we’d never leave SEL Schools.”Turk Family

And the Survey Says…

The survey we posted has received 174 responses so far.  Not unexpectedly, it’s a mixed bag.  As many of us are all too aware, the perception of our schools does not match the reality for most families that use the schools.  We were heartened by the many positive comments we received, and equally saddened by the negative comments that were posted.  In order to move forward in the most positive way, we have to confront the negative as well as embrace the positive.  We believe that by talking about it, we can start to make it better.  We will come together as a community and work together to make our schools the best they can be.  There is work to be done, but this is a community that cares deeply and we plan to harness that positive energy to achieve remarkable results.  Please share your ideas and join the conversation.