Schools connect us

Schools connect us.

It happens when you least expect it.

The most recent case for me was on a Saturday morning in mid-November at a meeting in a church basement on West 65th Street in Cleveland. The meeting was about a grant program for grassroots groups. I was there to help grant seekers understand how to apply.

I was seated with three friendly, open and energetic women, eager to make their mark on the city. As we chatted about their ideas I discovered that two of my table mates had grown up in Cleveland Heights, and one, Loma, had attended Boulevard School—my neighborhood school. We were instant friends. Loma shared positive memories about Boulevard, and confided that her children are annoyed by her need to draw attention to her old school whenever they drive by on Lee Road.

Wanting to know more about her experience and what we had in common, I asked who she had for first grade. Her response sealed our connection.

“That was a long time ago. I only remember the Chapmans. They were the best—young, creative and so lively.”

That was my experience, too. Jeff and Laurie Chapman met at Boulevard as new teachers, married, and co-taught fifth grade for more than 25 years. Loma had Mrs. Chapman in the late 1970s, and I met them a decade later when my children attended Boulevard. Our experience with the Chapmans was the same. These inspiring teachers were the source of a strong positive connection to the school. They made learning engaging. They welcomed me and my husband as partners in their work, and were innovators in the classroom and in schoolwide reform ideas. They shaped my children and much of my thinking about teachers and schools—and still do!

When Loma and I discovered that the same people had touched our lives, I felt like I had met an old friend. Trust and good will were immediate with this stranger. This is exactly the power schools can have on communities. They turn strangers into friends and trusted allies, who want to make something that has served them well work for others. This is the energy that sustains effective institutions.

This chance encounter reminded me that positive school experiences depend on the relationships between teachers, and students and their families. Teaching is not a remote control activity, it's about the interaction of children, teachers and ideas. The connections translate into pride, ownership and loyalty. The bonds that can make strangers feel like friends are also the source of community. They fuel the public activism that makes community members of all generations take to the streets to support their schools.

School pride, and all that flows from it, comes from connections to the people in a school community—not from test scores. The future success of our public schools remains in the human work of teacher-student-family relationships. We must safeguard these relationships to guarantee learning, pride and loyalty.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and current board member of the Home Repair Resource Center.

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Volume 4, Issue 12, Posted 10:40 AM, 12.02.2011