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

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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

Tell us why you love teaching at SEL Schools!

Please copy and paste your answers to the following questions and email them to us at selexperienceproject@gmail.com and we may use them in an upcoming blog post! Don’t forget to include a picture!

What is your name?

Where did you attend college?

How long have you been teaching in SEL Schools and where else have you taught?

Where do you teach and what subjects do you teach?

What do you love about teaching in SEL Schools?

Tell us about some of your most meaningful accomplishments.

Ms. Hadley Conner

Ms ConnorHadley K Conner, Chair of Brush High School’s Art Department, is unforgettable. You may have seen her showing her photography work in galleries around the area, performing on the stage at music venues throughout Ohio, or cruising around town in her 1964 Galaxie 500 XL.

Employed by the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District since 2001, Ms. Conner teaches Photo 1 & 2 and AP Photo, but in her estimation, she’s really teaching the closest thing to actual magic. “Analog Photography is important because it teaches the science, the craft, and the magic of the photographic process. There is a general movement to go back to making things by hand, and working in the lab and darkroom is an experience. As each successive generation is more and more engaged in electronic devices, a creative classroom that leaves digital technology behind is an important and rewarding break from screen time.”

Although digital photography is the common practice these days, and while Ms. Conner does incorporate it into her program, she feels analog photography is such an important foundation that she has been known to drive out of state to obtain donations for the Brush darkroom. As a result of her efforts, Brush has an impressive darkroom and one of the only large color print processors in the area. Since the majority of the equipment has been donated, the program has been developed and maintained at an extremely low cost to the district.

Ms. Conner’s passion for photography and the arts has made a significant impact on Brush students. The number of students requesting to take classes in art and photography continues to increase each year. Brush has a strong performance at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards each year, with 15- 30 students on average winning regional, and sometimes national awards for their art. As a testimony to the effectiveness of the program, Ms. Conner remarked that between 10 and 15 students in an average senior class at Brush go on to pursue art degrees in college.

In addition to teaching and managing the Art Department at Brush, Ms. Conner is a well-known and award-winning working artist. With a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and a Master’s degree from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Ms. Conner shows her photography throughout the region and is on the Advisory Board for the Cleveland Print Room, a gallery and community darkroom focusing on analog photography. Ms. Conner teaches a variety of photography workshops at the Print Room and enjoys staying engaged in Cleveland’s vibrant art scene.

Along with her photography, Ms. Conner is the lead singer for 45 Spider, a band that includes her husband. Playing regularly at music venues throughout the region, Ms. Conner enjoys the collaborative process of performing with a band and finds that there is a tight connection between the art and music scene in Cleveland. Performing in 45 Spider, “is a lot like teaching in the sense that you’re delivering a message and the audience reaction often determines your next move and the outcome of the show (or lesson) “

Ms. Conner loves teaching in the district and says that the students’ enthusiasm for art keeps her motivated. “Brush is a microcosm of the world. Our students are cosmopolitan. They’ve been exposed to art and culture, likely due to the school district’s proximity to Cleveland’s many cultural amenities”. According to Ms. Conner, this appreciation for the arts has led to a vibrant arts scene at Brush and a commitment to the arts among students. Ms. Conner looks forward to continuing to foster and nurture the creativity of Brush students for many years to come.

Mr. Justin Tisdale

Mr. Justin Tisdale is a Brush High School alumnus and social studies teacher in Capturethe South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools. After moving to the district in the fourth grade, he finished his education at SEL and graduated from Brush in 2000. He then enrolled at Notre Dame College and stayed in the community upon earning his degree. He currently resides in South Euclid with his wife and daughter.

When asked about his experience at Brush, the first word that came to mind was “fun.” He said the teachers taught what was necessary, he enjoyed the company of his classmates, and it was, overall, a good experience. He also noted the sense of community within the school building. “No matter how bad the football team was, and they were pretty bad, you could always expect the stands to be packed Friday night.” His favorite memories include Homecoming Top 25, assemblies, and simply being in high school. Mr. Tisdale says the school has changed most in how education is approached. “There’s less freedom for teachers,” he says. He also believes that there is a lack of respect for authority, which could be a shift in overall generational perspectives. “I think most notably and specific to Brush is that the school spirit is gone.” In what ways hasn’t the school changed? “There is still no sense of cliques at the high school.”

The district’s reputation within the community is troubling, Mr. Tisdale shared. “The perception isn’t great, and a lack of communication with the community has caused this perception to worsen.” He says the shifting demographics have also affected the community’s view on the public schools. “Most of the students are good kids, but it’s the small group of troublemakers that brands the whole school that way.”

Mr. Tisdale’s initial goal was to help kids reach their potential, which served as the catalyst to becoming a teacher. He initially taught at Riverside High School in Painesville, but came back to Brush because he saw the opportunity for him to serve an important role. “I felt that at Brush I had the ability to serve as a positive Black male role model to the students. I wanted to prove that it was possible to not fall into the negative stereotypes and give them guidance in achievement.” He has served as a basketball in previous years, and could often be found working sporting events. “It was great seeing the students play and interacting with each other outside of school.

In his time as both a student and educator, Mr. Tisdale believes the Brush experience has changed, depending on perspective. “Testing has taken away drive for the whole school community,” alluding to the state-mandated tests instituted in the past 15 years. “There’s also been an influx of transient students, who often view Brush as a school rather than a home. It’s hard to build community if you’re not sure if some some students are going to be there from year to year.” Above all, he believes the Brush experience and high school in general should be enjoyable. “It should be fun for everyone. It shouldn’t be viewed as a job. School is best when we work for the kid’s success and enjoyment.”

Mr. Andy Harkey

Mr. Andy Harkey wasn’t always a high school social studies teacher. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he spent almost 15 years working in the political realm of Washington, DC. “After graduating from [UNC Chapel Hill], I didn’t really have a set career plan. I knew I liked politics and history and government, so I took a paid internship with a congressmen and it turned into a full-time job.” He spent 9 ½ years working for congressmen in the House of Representatives, before becoming a lobbyist for the American Financial Services Association. “Working in Washington was a very exciting and interesting experience.”

After moving to the Cleveland area, he managed a small business for some time before deciding to make a career change. “In Washington, I met a Vietnam War veteran who was passionate about the importance of teaching history. He taught a night class at the University of Maryland and invited me to help out. After that experience, teaching became a possible career option for me in the back of my mind.” He enrolled in the Masters of Education program at John Carroll University and his intern program placed him at Brush. “That’s what led me here.”

How does he feel about his time teaching? “The staff here at Brush is really good. I think we have some of the best teachers in the state, and I’m confident about the quality of instruction we offer.” Mr. Harkey also believes that Brush and SEL still offers a tremendous variety of opportunities to any type of student. “Even through the rough economic times and waning community support, we’ve still managed to offer excellent educational opportunities to our students.”

Mr. Harkey hopes that our political environment will swing back in favor of public schools. “It’s an important foundation of this country.” His time at Brush has introduced him to great kids who have gone onto do great things. He’s thankful for the relationships he’s had with former students, who still take the effort to let him know what they’re up to. “I’ve had some really great students.”

Ms. Sarah Curry

Sarah Curry 1

Ms. Sarah Curry is a 15-year art instructor at Charles F. Brush High School, teaching the courses of painting, advanced painting, and AP Drawing. A native of Shaker Heights, Ms. Curry studied at Kansas City Art Institute before returning to the Cleveland area. She and her friends have recently started Artful, an organization dedicated to sharing studio space on the east side.

Unlike many teachers, Ms. Curry didn’t have a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. “I wanted to do something in art, but did not intend on ever teaching.” For a long time she, didn’t particularly like kids. “I hated kids and I hated high school, which is ironic seeing as I’m a high school art teacher now.” What changed her mind? “I wanted to be the teacher I never had: in terms of both learning something and just having someone to talk to.” She states the most rewarding part of her job is the relationships formed with her students. “I still hear back from students I had my first year of teaching, which is really awesome and I think it’s a testament to the schools and the teachers.”

What is so appealing about the “Brush experience?” “The respect that the students have for each other’s differences,” insists Ms. Curry. “The school has a wide array of cultural, economic, and social diversity, which I think is great for the kids.” She was filled with words of praise for her students. “These kids are awesome. They’re talented and creative and really want to do something, if given the opportunity.” Her advice for students? Be smart without your smart phone.Sarah Curry 2

Ms. Curry is incredibly thankful for the great support of the arts throughout the school and the community. “It’s a great outreach, and the more we can do the stronger the roots will be between the community and the schools. We need to start seeing youth as a positive force as opposed to a negative component.”