Jamal Perry

Jamal is second from the left in the first picture.

Jamal 2Jamal Perry is a lifelong resident of South Euclid and a Charles F. Brush High School alumnus. He started his SEL experience in kindergarten at Rowland and continued through high school. Since graduating in 2013, Jamal has enrolled at The Ohio State University in Columbus where he is studying mechanical engineering. He is spending the summer in Connecticut interning at Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace engineering firm.

At Brush, Jamal met many interesting people and friends that he still keeps in touch with. “I also got a great education,” he affirms.  Some of his favorite memories involve playing on the Arcs’ soccer team. “It was great playing those four years and all the friends I made in the process.” He also attributes playing soccer to his development of perseverance. “Soccer made me a ‘fighter’ which has given me the ability to chase goals and overcome adversity. Soccer has made me a better person.” Aside from soccer, Jamal also played baseball and participated in track & field.

When it comes to academics, Jamal’s memorable teachers include Mr. Foerg and Mr. Swinerton. “Mr. Foerg’s AP Calculus BC class really helped prepare me for college, both in content and how it was organized.” He explains that in AP Calculus, homework was optional and not counted for a grade. “There were no points awarded for doing your homework, which meant completing it was for your own personal benefit. Many of my engineering classes have a similar structure, which means you have to motivate yourself to do the work. Sometimes it’s difficult, but it only helps you. He also enjoyed AP stats with Mr. Swinerton. “I really liked stats because it felt very applicable to real life, and Swin was a great teacher.”

While he fondly remembers the group of AP and honors students who were driven to succeed, he discussed the large gap in academic motivation. “There were really smart kids who pushed themselves and wanted to succeed, but after the top 30 students or so it fell off. You could tell there were kids there that just didn’t want to be there. It all had to do with self-motivation.”

At Ohio State, Jamal can often be found at his on-campus job. “I work at the RPAC, which is the main recreation center on campus.” When he’s not at work, he also helps out with WeTruck, a team working on building a low-cost SUV for people in Guatemala. This past May, he went on a service trip through Ohio State to Detroit to work on an urban farm as a member of Humanitarian Engineering Scholars. “These farms are meant to provide produce to communities that don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their grocery stores or shopping marts.” He is also a member of Lambda Psi, a minority engineering honorary. After finishing his bachelor’s degree, Jamal plans to earn a master’s degree in bioengineering. “I want to understand how muscles, tissues, and tendons work.” He hopes improve the procedures and equipment that are used in knee surgeries.Jamal

Jamal says attending Brush was a great experience. “There’s a lot of diversity, which prepares you for real world situations and benefits you in college.” He believes that his time in the SEL schools has benefitted him in ways that extend beyond the classroom. “I’m more prepared for life because I went to Brush.


Erin Lee

Erin Lee 1 Erin Lee, a former South Euclid resident, joined the SEL family in the 7th grade. Since graduating from Brush High School in 2013, she has moved to Columbus and enrolled in The Ohio State University where she is studying Public Health. During her senior year at Brush, she was voted “Most Involved” and her list of after-school activities prove that she was a fixture around the school. “I was in student council, National Honor Society, book club, art club, the MAC Scholars group for female students, and played volleyball.

When asked to describe her Brush experience, Erin says she felt prepared for her transition to Ohio State. “I felt prepared for OSU academically, as well as socially because of the diverse student body.” Her favorite memories include designing senior class t-shrits, prom, and playing on the volleyball team. What disappointed her about her years at Brush was the lack of school spirit, which she believes was caused partially because of the lack of school events. “I think if we had more pep rallies and dances and other events like that, we would have had stronger school spirit and a closer knit school community.” Still, she enjoyed her time at Brush. “I would change nothing about my time at Brush. Everyone has their journey and things happen for a reason.” She mentions Ms. Curry her favorite teacher: “Ms. Curry really allowed me to grow both in art and as a person, and taught me how to be more open-minded in life.”

In her time at Ohio State, Erin has become the vice president of the Society of Sisters, as well as as mentor in The Girls Circle Project and College Mentors for Kids. She says Brush made her more open-minded and taught her hoErin Lee 2w to interact with people of varying backgrounds on a different level. Her only complaint about her high school experience was the lack of career planning that was offered. “I switched my major five times in my first two years at Ohio State,” Erin explains. She wishes that students were given the opportunity to do more career exploration and understand the paths one could take. “Maybe then I wouldn’t have switched my major five times.” Erin has yet to figure out her long term plans, but she is confident that Brush and Ohio State will have prepared her for whatever is to come.

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.”

Mr. Thomas Bennett

Mr. Thomas Bennett, an English teacher at Charles F. Brush High School, has been teaching in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District for 20 years. A native of Rocky River, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated from Duke University with degrees in English and Philosophy. He returned to northeast Ohio to work in his family’s plastics business, serving as a salesmen for 15 years. He is an avid sailor as well a convert to Judaism. Once presented with the opportunity, he fulfilled his longtime goal of becoming a high school English teacher.

When asked on his thoughts regarding the “Brush experience,” he noted the strength and rigor of the upper level honors and AP programs. “Those courses have been solid for years,” explained Mr. Bennett, who teaches 11th grade honors English. “I’ve really enjoyed working with my students throughout my career.” His one complaint is the increasing lack of focus among students of this new generation, which he blames mainly on technology. “It’s become a huge distraction in schools.” A class with Mr. Bennett is not complete without an oratory on the negative consequences of cell phones. He looks back on his time at Brush with fondness, with a great appreciation for his colleagues. “I was in the middle of two generations of teachers, with those who retired in the 90s and those who filled their shoes.” The most difficult part of his job would probably be discipline. “[Discipline] is always the hard part about teaching high school wherever you go.” Still, he has greatly enjoyed his time teaching and the relationships he has built with his students.

Mr. Bennett ended his interview with insightful observations and words of wisdom regarding our changing culture. “Society’s values are shifting. We’ve sadly become more materialistic, chasing after affluence.” He notes that student motivation is down due to the rise of electronics. “It’s unfortunate,” he noted. While he states that his time in the classroom  has been rewarding, he wouldn’t recommend going into the teaching field in today’s age. “Teaching was once a very prestigious profession, and it seems that the respect for it has crumbled in recent years.” He hopes to see teaching return to a “noble profession” in our society.

Mr. Bennett has been a professorial fixture within the halls of Charles F. Brush, engaging his students in philosophical discussions regarding America’s greatest literature. His “Great Gatsby Dinner Party Skit” is a favorite project among the juniors in his honors class. He is just another example of the excellence that can be found in the faculty within the SEL schools.

Megan Katz

Megan KatzMegan Katz, a resident of Lyndhurst, is a 2013 graduate of Charles F. Brush High School. During her time at Brush, she was in band, yearbook, a Spanish tutor, and a Sun Messenger sports contributor. She was a student in STEP UP, the district’s gifted education program, and has a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Since graduating from Brush, Megan has been studying Political Science with a focus in Law & Society, as well as minoring in history, at John Carroll University. At JCU, she is a correspondent at the Writing Center, a freelance sports writer with the Northeast Ohio Media Group, and a member of the honors program. After graduation she plans to enroll in a dual degree program and earn a Masters of Public Policy and a law degree, hoping to work in the policy arena.

When asked about what stands out about her Brush experience, she mentioned her dedicated teachers. “They really took the time to help their students learn, setting up meetings for extra help.” She mentioned Mr. Andy Harkey, a Social Studies teacher, who would meet with students at a local coffee shop Saturdays to discuss the material. “My teachers really helped pave the way for my future successes in both college and high school,” stated Megan. Her favorite memories revolved around band, where she played the trumpet. “Band helped give me more confidence.” She enjoyed spending Friday nights on the sidelines of the football field and remembers band camp as a highlight of the summer. “It was a close knit-community because a lot of friends and families were involved.” When discussing the things she didn’t like about Brush, she mentioned her disappointment when the district cut STEP UP. “STEP UP was my own ‘in-school family’ that helped foster critical thinking and creativity. When they cut the program, I was upset because I would no longer have time with this community of similar-abilitied people. It always seemed that [STEP UP] was the first program to go when the budget was slashed, prioritizing students that were struggling over us. I understand that its important to give attention to those who are not doing well academically, but without proper enrichment our giftedness might not flourish.” She was happy to learn that STEP UP is making a comeback in the SEL district.

Megan states with confidence that she felt very prepared for college after attending Brush. “Brush prepared me to meet and interact with different kinds of people,” a nod to the school’s diverse student body. “There were no defined cliques.” Groups over-lapped, she explained, and it wasn’t strange for a star on the soccer field to also be a star in the classroom. “Not everyone was like you, and that was the norm.” The honors and AP classes were also a big help in preparing for a collegiate atmosphere. “The workload in these classes definitely prepared me for my college classes.” One area where she felt college preparation was lacking was the guidance department. “I didn’t have a lot of help in the college search and college admissions process.” She mentions that her class had three different guidance counselors by the time they graduated. “We never really met with our guidance counselors unless it was to switch a class or to finalize an application. It seemed they were more focus on dealing with disciplinary issues, like kids skipping or failing classes, as opposed to actually ‘guiding.’” She does note that this is more of an administrative flaw.

“People give Brush a hard time and say they did well in spite of going there, but I firmly believe I did well because I went to Brush.” Megan’s final words struck a chord, proving the point that success does come out of 4875 Glenlyn Road. She mentioned that Brush students have the potential to do great things, and she is proud to have gone to a school where she received both an academic and life education.

Why are we doing this? What’s the point?

Strong public schools lead to strong communities. When the strength of the public schools is called into question through misinformation, everyone hurts. Local government, businesses, and families must scramble to face the effects of this new perception. Most importantly, the students are hurt. As Harvard professor of Public Policy Robert Putnam noted in his bestseller Bowling Alone, “trust, networks, and norms of reciprocity within a child’s family, school, peer group, and larger community have wide-ranging effects on the child’s opportunities and choices.” We are at a crossroads in the communities of South Euclid & Lyndhurst, Ohio: our public schools no longer represent the community they serve. Through gossip and hearsay, many of our middle-class families no longer trust the public education system as a viable option for their children. It’s time to change that.

The SEL Experience Project believes in a better South Euclid-Lyndhurst City School District. Formed in the spring of 2015 by a concerned parent and a recent graduate, this grassroots organization aims to share the real stories of our public schools. We have both experienced firsthand the incredible opportunities available in the public schools and are passionate about sharing the real SEL. It’s time we, as a community, take responsibility for the state of our public education option. It’s time we recognize that childhood development and learning is influenced not only by family and school, but by community as well. When we divest from public education, we relay the message that these students don’t matter. Every student matters.