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.”

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

“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



“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.”

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