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 Transom.org, 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 www.aridanielshapiro.com. 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:  www.nikkiwoods.com

 

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

Amber Ford, Class of 2012

Amber Ford Portrait

Word on the street is that Amber Ford is going to be famous. Cleveland art circles have been buzzing about the talented young photographer and her compelling work that focuses on race, gender, and identity. Amber, who graduated from Brush High School in 2012 and the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2016, has been quickly making a name for herself in the art community. Her latest exhibition, “By Force & By Choice”, was recently on display at Zaina Gallery at West 78th Street Studios. The show featured portraits of local immigrants and refugees, a body of work that Amber considers “an ongoing response to the idea of identity.” The show included a fundraiser to support the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, something that Amber feels is of particular importance given the current political climate.

Selected as a 2016 Creative Fusion Artist by the Cleveland Foundation, Amber created a series of photographic murals currently on display on the front of the Ohio Pasta building at the corner of Detroit and West 32nd.

Amber Ford began attending SEL Schools in the third grade after her family moved to South Euclid from Cleveland. Her interest in art began when she started attending Brush. She mentions Sarah Curry and Hadley Conner as the teachers that fostered her talent and encouraged her to pursue art as a career. “I used to go the art room any time I had a free period. It was my ‘me time’, recalls Amber. All the time spent in the art room paid off when Amber received a full scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art. At CIA, Amber new immediately that she was drawn to photography as a major. “I had an advantage among other students who were not familiar with the dark room and traditional film photography, since Ms. Conner taught us those skills at Brush”, Amber remarked.

Amber excelled at CIA and won a prestigious Agnes Gund traveling scholarship in her senior year, which allowed her to travel to New Orleans for a National Geographic photography workshop. During her time in New Orleans, Amber stayed in the 7th Ward and began photographing the area and its people, in addition to learning new skills at the intensive workshop.

Rounding out her senior year at CIA, Amber’s BFA show, entitled “In-Between”, featured photographic portraits and silk screens of black males, designed to question what it means to be young, black, and male in America today. In her artist statement for the work, Amber says, “Too often on the front page of the newspaper, are black males depicted as a threat to white society and criminalized. On the back page, they are heroes and lionized. This work is portraying neither the criminal nor the hero; not the mugger nor celebrity. Here we see the males that are found in-between.”

Issues of race also informed Amber’s time at Brush. “When I started at SEL Schools, the students were mostly white. When I graduated, they were mostly black. When the schools started to become mostly minority, people began to say the schools were in decline. That’s always bothered me.” Amber feels that she received a great education at SEL Schools and that she was well prepared for college. Amber hopes that SEL continues to make arts education a priority.

These days, Amber is working at the Cleveland Print Room as the Community Education Liaison and an instructor for the Multiple Exposures Art Mastery Program. The Cleveland Foundation grant funded program brings immersive arts education to middle and high school students in Cleveland. Students express their creativity through photography and master the skill of visual storytelling.

This summer, Amber also begins creating her own new work for upcoming shows. While contemplating a potential relocation to the South, Amber is enjoying her time in Cleveland and being a part of the vibrant art scene. Awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2017, Amber’s future success seems assured.

Amber’s steadily growing fan base will be anxiously watching to see how her future develops. Find out more about Amber’s work on her website: http://www.ambernford.com/.

“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