I Thought My School Was Typical

I grew up with the problem that no one talks about. I lived through community members gently tip-toeing around subjects like race and class. You might not think your ten-year-old child notices these types of things, but they do. I watched a number of my White peers move away to “better” areas. I saw friends transfer to private schools in search of a “better” education. It didn’t take long to realize that the people leaving SEL and the people entering SEL looked very different from each other. I might not have known why this was happening, but I knew.

I entered kindergarten at Adrian Elementary in 2000. My best friend lived around the corner from me. My mom volunteered with the PTA. I rode a school bus and was excited when they served chocolate pudding in the cafeteria. For much of my childhood, I thought my school was typical. There wasn’t anything special or out of the ordinary. How different could things be?

I slowly learned that there was one particular aspect of my school that made it different from many others. You see, half of the students I went to school with didn’t look like me. I was a fair-skinned child with blonde hair and blue eyes. Every day I would walk into a classroom where 50 percent of my peers were Black. Did I notice the difference in skin pigmentation? Yes, but I never thought anything of it. 7-year-old me lived in a post-racial world. Skin color didn’t matter when I played on the playground or ate lunch in the cafeteria.

As the time to transition to Greenview moved closer, more and more people moved away. I saw countless friends leave the school I loved. While a handful were moving across the state or even across the country, most were relocating less than 20 miles away. They settled down in places like Solon or Hudson, or sometimes even neighboring Mayfield.

It wasn’t until I crept toward adolescence that the reasoning for my peers leaving began to solidify. My parents explained to me the social phenomena of “White flight.” As more and more people of color moved into neighborhoods and schools, middle-class White people fled further away from the city center. I began to understand why all my classmates moving away were White and all the “new kids” weren’t. It wasn’t at all a sheer coincidence.

As I progressed further and further in SEL, jabs at my school became more pointed and a regular occurrence. Friends who had left the district or went to private schools would tell me that I went to a “ghetto” and “dangerous” school. Often times they were simply regurgitating what the adults in their lives had told them. Work colleagues or general acquaintances would question my parents as to why they would send their children to Brush. “Don’t you want a good education for your children? Maybe you should consider private school.”

It’s no wonder that my peers and I thought we went to a bad school. We were constantly surrounded by the negative opinions of (often uninformed) community members. Our friends from other schools would warn of being stabbed in the hallway. Complete strangers would inform us as to why Brush doomed us to a life of mediocrity.

If there is one thing that you pick up from this internet rambling, it’s this: sending me to Brush and SEL schools was the best thing my parents could have done for my education. I took honors and AP classes from dedicated faculty who taught me how to think critically. I engaged in a multitude of extracurricular activities that allowed me to become a well-rounded person. At Brush, I was able to excel academically while participating in a phenomenal music program and pursuing a love of art. I learned incredible leadership skills from pitching for the less-than-stellar softball team.

Most importantly, I learned how to engage with people who aren’t like me. From the time I entered kindergarten until I graduated high school, I attended schools that were at least 50 percent Black. I had classmates whose parents worked two jobs. I interacted with people who didn’t possess the same religious beliefs I did. These experiences helped give me a worldview that extends beyond my privileged, White, middle-class bubble. You don’t learn anything from being surrounded by homogeneity. I am infinitely more prepared for life because of my time at Brush.

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South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools have allowed me and my younger brother to be anything but mediocre. I’m currently a junior in Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs and serve as Media Director for the OSU chapter of Students for Education Reform. My brother Colin graduated as salutatorian of the class of 2015 and is currently a freshman at Northwestern University. An education in this school district has enabled us and many others to create a promising future of our own.

My father often describes living in South Euclid as “ground zero.” This is where we truly figure out if people from different classes, races, religions, and general walks of life can live together as neighbors and thrive. It’s a difficult process that requires reflecting on our tumultuous history filled with discriminatory practices. By attending SEL schools, we made a statement: we aren’t running from these challenges. We’re ready to face this head on.

In the fifteen years my family has been associated with SEL, the demographics of the schools shifted dramatically. In 2000, the district roughly represented the community it served: it was filled with mostly White, middle-class students. In a decade and a half, however, the schools’ population has become predominantly Black and the student poverty rate has increased almost 2500%. Many people are willing to acknowledge the recent influx of minority families into the public schools but not willing to do so for the equally important half. Middle-class, mainly White families have left our schools. It’s time we become comfortable addressing this fact. Like my colleague, Sally Martin, mentioned in her essay “The Problem No One Talks About,” race is a very difficult thing to discuss. But we have to start somewhere. We have to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

-Beth Fry

Erin Matteo

FullSizeRender (1)Erin Matteo, a native of Lyndhurst, began her SEL experience in kindergarten at Ridgebury Elementary School. She graduated from Charles F. Brush High School in 2010, where she served as Student Congress president during her senior year. Since completing her primary and secondary education, Erin has graduated from The Ohio State University and finished graduate school at Case Western Reserve University.

At Brush, Erin played soccer and softball, while also serving as a conflict mediator. “Soccer was definitely a high point of my high school career. I got to play the sport I love with my best friends,” Erin recalls. She was also able to give back to the community as a member of student council and Student Congress. “I’m really fortunate I was able to serve with good people during my time in both.” She fondly remembers Mrs. Quinlan, an art teacher who now works in a different district building, and Mr. Swinerton as some of her favorite instructors. “Even when he wasn’t my teacher, I would go see Swin for help with my math homework,” Erin laughs.

When asked about what she would change about her time at Brush, Erin wishes she would have understood the importance of her foreign language education. “I should have taken Spanish more seriously. It would have been incredibly helpful professionally to have language proficiency.” She wished that there was more of a push to take the languages beyond the district’s required two years.

In the five years since she has been an SEL student, Erin has been continuing her education at two of the state’s top academic institutions. She earned a Bachelor’s of Social Work from The Ohio State University before returning to Cleveland for a 12-month Master’s program focusing in social work administration at Case. While at Ohio State she conducted services projects across the Greater Columbus area with Ohio State’s College of Social Work and also served at the president of the Wine Club. Now that she has obtained both of her degrees, she plans to work toward her licensing requirements and aspires to work in a hospital setting with cancer patients.

Erin believes that her time at Brush prepared her not only academically but socially as well. “I felt like I was a step above other individuals at OSU, in terms of my cultural competence and strong interpersonal skills. The diversity at Brush really prepares you for real life situations.” She believes her transition to college was difficult because it’s difficult for everyone, but she was given the tools to be successful. “The teachers at Brush are very helpful, you just have to be willing to ask.”

The community’s reviews of the public schools in South Euclid-Lyndhurst are mixed, Erin shares, but she believes the views become more positive when residents enroll their children in the district. “I think people, in general, enjoy having negative opinions. It’s a part of human nature.” While there are always going to be problems with large groups, she believes SEL is a great place to grow and learn. “The good outweigh the bad tenfold.”

Drew and Kelly Dockery

IMG_3109When the Dockerys moved from a small town in 2008, they did not know what to expect when they moved to South Euclid and entered the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District. Drew ‘12 started Brush as a freshman and sister Kelly ‘14 started Memorial as a 7th grade student.  Although, they were placed into a new environment, this did not hinder them from striving for excellence in their academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. Drew is currently a senior at the New School in New York City studying Global Studies with a minor in religion. Kelly is a sophomore at John Carroll University studying Psychology with a biology minor for pre-med.

During his time at Brush, Drew was a member of the Chess Club, Debate team, Diving Team, and during his senior year he decided to join Drama Club and was in his first theatrical production, Hairspray.  Drew was also a member of the Academic Team and he still remembers his first time attending a meeting.  He was a freshman and the new kid, but he was able to impress everyone by answering an obscure history question. “From that point, I knew that I would have friends and knew that I would be successful in my new environment.” Drew believes that being able to experience diversity is important and attending a diverse high school has formed the basis of how he sees his life now. “Attending Brush gave me an impetus to work towards racial reconciliation and justice.”

Kelly was the President of the Freshman Class, Captain of the Soccer Team, Captain of the Diving Team, and was the Concertmistress of both the Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble. Kelly believes that her experience at Brush has helped her become a well-rounded person. Kelly graduated from Brush feeling prepared for college and appreciates how the guidance counselors worked hard to prepare students for college. She took honors and AP classes and was still able to manage her course load while being involved in athletics and extracurricular activities. Her favorite moments include time she spent on freshman class council, spending time with the soccer team on and off the field, and being able to enjoy football games and Top 25 with her friends.

Drew and Kelly both are grateful for having the opportunity to study Chinese at Brush.  This provided them both with the opportunity to study abroad in China for a year during their time at Brush. According to Drew, his time in China has been one of the most profound experiences in his life.  “Brush gave me the ability to interact with people who are different from me and also gave me the skills to do that in the specific setting of China. And so through China, I have since been able to work and do research there and also study abroad there, which would not have happened if it were not for the Brush Chinese Program.”

Since graduation from Brush, they have both been busy with college and have spent time studying and researching abroad.  Drew spent the summer after his freshman year on the Tibetan Plateau, studying the impact of infrastructure development on Nomadic people and later worked in Shanghai with the Boston Consulting Group.During the second semester of his sophomore year , he studied abroad in South Africa and spent time working on an organic farm outside of Cape Town during the summer. At the New School, Drew is involved in Cash Cash, a low-income student group, and the New School Theater Collective.  After graduating, Drew plans to go to graduate school and then live and work in China.

Kelly spent this past summer in Ethiopia and Kenya. She was working to empower people by the means of providing medical care, setting people up with prosthetics, working with orphanages, helping people to get training for creating their own income generating businesses, and allowing them to create long-lasting success in their lives and being able to cut foreign aid.  At John Carroll University, Kelly is on the Soccer team and the Swimming and Diving Team.  For Kelly, being fluent in Chinese has allowed her to help out Chinese international students at John Carroll University. She has translated for them during the international orientation and serves as a tutor to help them with their English. After graduation, Kelly plans to go to Medical School and is interested in opening up clinics  throughout areas that lack access to proper medical care and these clinics would be run by local medical providers.

Drew and Kelly are both proud to be alumni of Brush High School and believe that attending the school has prepared them for life in the “real world.” Drew encourages all families to send their kids to Brush. “It is time for middle-class families to start sending their kids back to Brush. If we want to have a healthy school system, if we want to have kids who are well-rounded, if we want to have IMG_3365kids who are prepared to exist in an increasingly globalized and increasingly diverse world, then this is critical.” And Kelly encourages all students to apply themselves and make the best of their experience.  “Brush is a school that if you invest time and effort into it, you can get great things out of it.”

Teddy Eisenberg

11847710_1716842368456125_1232864283_oIf you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Teddy Eisenberg, you’ve probably noticed his booming voice or firm handshake. Valedictorian of the class of 2012, he is currently a rising senior at Case Western Reserve University and focusing in the social sciences. “I’m double majoring in history and economics and working toward a double minor in political science and public policy.” Teddy grew up in South Euclid and began his SEL experience in kindergarten at Rowland Elementary.

At Brush, Teddy was involved in multiple activities including marching band, Key Club, National Honor Society, AV club, academic team, and tennis. He describes his time in the district as an invaluable experience. “SEL isn’t an ‘echo chamber:’ you rub shoulders with people on a daily basis you might not typically interact with. It allows you to grow.” The skills he learned in AV even helped him land a job at The City Club of Cleveland, the nation’s oldest free speech club. “It’s cool to be able to go into that kind of situation with the unique skill set the people hiring are looking for. I’m currently serving as content associate.” For this, and many other reasons, Teddy is grateful for the effort he put his education with the SEL schools.

His fondest memories often center on his skilled and passionate teachers. “Many of them wanted to make students better people and their guidance surpassed the classroom.” He specifically mentioned Mr. Beck, Mr. Laplanche, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Harkey. Teddy also mentioned his fondness for Doc Jones, an English teacher whom he never had in class. “We both had a love of Humphrey Bogart and would discuss it in between classes in the hallways.”

As a student at Case, Teddy has been keeping busy studying at working. “Aside from my school work and The City Club, I also work at the Case college radio station.” He has greatly enjoyed working his way through the ranks at the station, and has served in multiple capacities. He encourages everyone to check out 91.1 WRUW.

After completing his degree, Teddy plans on staying in Cleveland and possibly taking on more responsibilities at The City Club. “I would love to be offered a full-time job after graduation. It’s a great place that is hosting important dialogue in this city.” He is considering grad school at some point in the future, possibly in econ or public policy. “I’d like to take a break from schooling for a little bit,” he laughs. Teddy also shared his hopes for the revival of Northeast Ohio: “I hope the Cleveland Renaissance continues and is able to extend beyond the city’s white community. I also hope it doesn’t come to an end after the Republican National Convention. Cleveland is a great place.”

Teddy has been encouraged by The SEL Experience Project and the work it’s been doing. “I’ve been following it on social media and I think it’s a really great thing.” He was happy to share his experiences and advice regarding obtaining success in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst public schools. “The district is going to give you success just for showing up. You have to reach below the surface, find what you are passionate about, and work for it. You really get what you give in this district.”

Dr. David & Alice Miller

IMG_3923Dr. David & Alice Miller moved into their South Euclid home in 1996. Their son, David, is a 2015 graduate of Charles F. Brush High School and began his SEL experience in kindergarten at Lowden. He will be attending Case in the fall. Dr. Miller serves as a professor in the Jack, Joseph & Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Mrs. Miller is a social worker by training and works at the VA with EEO discrimination cases. They are active members in the community, with Dr. Miller is finishing out his term on the South Euclid City Council.

The Millers’ first experience with the district was through the praise of neighborhood families. “We had friends whose oldest child went to Lowden and they absolutely loved it,” shares David. Alice adds, “there was a racial impression of Lowden, since it was a majority Black school. We were told ‘don’t believe the rumors’, and Lowden did prove to be excellent. It was small and very family oriented.” As their son moved through the district, they continued to notice the excellence in the SEL public schools. “Over the years, there have been more service offered for people needing IEPs, free & reduced lunch services, as well as adapting different models of education. But the district has also been very good at using its resources to helping the ‘achievers’ as well.”

Both strong proponents of public education, Dr. & Mrs. Miller viewed their son’s time in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District as a beneficial experience. “The best way to understand each other is in the classroom,” David firmly believes. “It’s a way to connect with your community. For us, it didn’t make sense for our son to play with his neighbors but not go to school with them.” They have proven to be valuable members of the school community, volunteering with PTA, Band Boosters, Athletic Boosters, co-chairing levy campaigns, and simply showing up to a variety of events. “Public schools need strong family support.”

What makes the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools so strong? “The teachers are phenomenal,” David & Alice report. They also credit the new administration for leading the district in a good direction. “They seem very accessible to the public and use their resources properly.” The Millers also commend the families they’ve met throughout their SEL experience. “They are dedicated to their kids’ education and future and they exude a warmth that makes the school feel very welcoming.” The disappointing aspects of SEL? “Parental involvement is lacking and the sports program has been kind of disappointing in recent years.”

The Millers believe their son David had a very good experience at Brush and the rest of the SEL schools and enjoyed his time there. “We’ve all met incredible people through the schools, and David made great friends throughout his years in the district.” They also point to the classes preceding David for keeping the families compelled to stay in the district. “When you see kids from the schools going to places like Princeton, Ohio State, Case, Michigan, Northwestern, it really puts in perspective that you can achieve great things here.”

To those that are unfamiliar or unconvinced by the schools in South Euclid & Lyndhurst, the Millers offer many insights: “this district has a committed group of teachers and administrators who really care about the students. By keeping your children out of the public schools, they are missing out on a valuable experience and will lack a connectedness to the community. Public education is a great equalizer, which makes it as important now as it has ever been.”

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.

Joe & Pam Rossi

DSC_0831Joe & Pam Rossi are residents of South Euclid and the parents of three children. Mrs. Rossi is an occupational therapist at the Cleveland Clinic, focusing in orthopedic rehab, while Mr. Rossi is employed at Chef’s Ingredients, a South Euclid-based business. They moved into their home in 1998. They are active members in the PTA, Band Boosters, and Athletic Boosters.

When the Rossis moved into the community in the late 1990s, they said the reputation of the district was strong. “We specifically focused on Adrian, because of the age of our children at the time,” shared Mrs. Rossi. They said the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City Schools had a more positive reputation than the Cleveland Heights public schools, where they lived initially. “The excellent educational opportunities at Adrian and its location in the near-east suburbs drew us to South Euclid.” Over time, they share, the reputation of the schools has declined. “There are more negative comments about the schools and there’s a racial element that people tend to talk around. These issues are common throughout inner-rings suburbs, and either add or detract based on one’s viewpoint.” They admit that the  public schools have challenges, but almost all schools do. “Our community, similar to Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, is dealing with increasing diversity within our schools which some view as a ‘problem.’ Going to more affluent schools further east doesn’t rid you of issues and controversy, it only introduces you to new forms.” Still, they are happy with the education their children received in the SEL public schools. “Our kids have a diverse group of friends, had excellent teachers, and participated in a variety of clubs.”

The Rossis enrolled each of their children in the public elementary schools, but gave them the option of choosing private school upon reaching middle school. “Our oldest child chose to go to private school because, at the time, Greenview wasn’t in good shape academically. He didn’t feel challenged.” The other two, however, have reamained in the public schools with one child graduating in 2015. “Our younger children didn’t even consider private school.” Mr. & Mrs. Rossi believe this is a sign of the strength of the academics in the public schools. “Aside from a select few, many of the private and Catholic high schools in the area don’t compare with the opportunities our public schools offer.”

The strengths of SEL include committed teachers and a level of diversity that matches the real world. “There are multiple types of people that attend our public schools, in terms of races, socio-economic status, and other demographic categories.” There are a variety of clubs and organizations and the administration is very open-minded. “We like the new superintendent and how she is out in front.” The Rossis would like to see a stronger gifted program that reaches out to these students as well as a thriving junior high science program. They’d also like to see more across the board parental involvement.

What are some of the benefits of sending their younger two children to the public schools? “The kids live closer to their friends, which makes the logistics of transportation a lot easier.” They also believe that enrolling their children in the public schools is a way to participate in the community. “We’ve met many of our close friends through the schools and different organizations,” Pam shares. “Public schools are the backbone of any good community, which makes them vitally important,” Joe adds.

The Rossis believe the best way to combat the negative perceptions is to share the positive aspects of the public schools with the community. “These kids do amazing things and put forth a lot of effort into community service. Let’s showcase that.” The biggest threat to the strength of the public schools is the gossip that circulates through the community. “Our youngest child came home from Memorial and shared that she had substitutes commenting on how ‘bad’ the schools were. They would tell the students ‘I would never send my children here.’ Those kinds of things have to stop.” They also share that many private school parents they’ve met are often shocked to hear them say positive things about the SEL public schools. “There’s this attitude that we’re the only school district with problems. All schools have problems. They’re teenagers.” Mrs. Rossi’s advice to apprehensive parents? “Give it a try, get involved, and talk to those who have children in the public schools.” Mr. Rossi adds, “Public education is a social contract. You really can’t complain if you don’t participate. It isn’t a vacuum, either. Public schools must accept everyone and can’t turn away those the administration views are ‘unfit to learn.’ Public education is for everybody.”