Making the case for Tiger Nation
I was probably one of the biggest skeptics when the CH-UH school district starting using “Tiger Nation” for everything. At the time I didn’t think anything needed fixing, or that there was a need for a unifying brand. I have deep roots in the community and it seemed like an affront at first. My family has been sending students to the Heights schools since the 1920s. My wife and I are both graduates, along with both of my parents and now our daughters. With all of that history, as well as working in the school system for more than 25 years, it took me a while to warm up to the whole Tiger Nation initiative.
I have spoken to fellow residents, who are strong CH-UH school supporters, who don’t understand what Tiger Nation means and don’t feel it connects them to the schools. I imagine that for many of us this alienation might be similar when a school is renamed or torn down. We become familiar with things that have been around a long time, and the familiar is comforting. I believe that branding is unifying, but perhaps when this was done there was not enough effort put into getting former school supporters on board.
Tiger Nation seems to work as a rallying point for current school families. Every school has black and gold as its school colors and every mascot is a tiger. How easy is that? In the past, each school had different colors and mascots, but when students got to the high school they were expected to magically coalesce into being “tigers.” Moreover, the Small Schools project diluted that concept. Now, it seems like all of our students play for the same team. All in all, students in school now don’t know anything different—they have been part of Tiger Nation for long enough that it is part of their identity. After all, if you see something on a bumper sticker or a shirt long enough, it is eventually internalized.
If you or a family member were “tigers,” then this is just a different term to express pride in and support for our schools and community. I keep the Tiger Nation sign in my yard just as neighbors might have a Gesu sign. My family has had great experiences in the Heights schools and we want people to know it.
I get a chance to travel to each school building in the district and continue to be impressed by our amazing students and staff. If I tried to judge the quality of our schools based only on media coverage or by putting much stock into test scores, I would probably not know the truth. Our kids are wonderful, and our schools are safe and nurturing places staffed by caring professionals who know what they are doing. If you have not visited Tiger Nation in a while, it is worth arranging a visit. And, by the way, the next time the signs are available you should consider putting one on your lawn, too, and get connected.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.