Advocate, alum and mom is 'All In' for Heights schools
As a graduate of Heights High and mother to one current and one former student, I am a firm believer in our community’s public schools. My belief, however, is not blind; it is based on what I have seen and experienced as a parent and advocate over the past 13 years.
My older son graduated from Heights High last year and has just begun college, where he continues to build upon what Heights instilled in him: the confidence to pursue his passions. Each year when football season ended, he would jump headlong into school and theater. Between the Heights drama department, clubs, sports, and community theaters, he had a wealth of opportunities to grow as an athlete and a performer, and he took advantage of all of it.
My younger son has had a dramatically different experience. He was diagnosed with a brain abnormality known as Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (ACC) when he was 7 months old. He faces numerous challenges, including difficulties with learning, language, motor coordination and understanding social cues. He began receiving early intervention and special education services from our school district even before he started kindergarten at Fairfax Elementary School. I can honestly say that the staff members working on his Individualized Education Program (IEP) throughout the years have cared deeply for him as an individual, not a case number.
Raising a child with special needs is never easy and can be an isolating experience. In 2012, feeling overwhelmed and alone, I asked several parents to join me in changing special education narratives and removing barriers that families might be facing alone. With the support of Reaching Heights, the Exceptional Children’s Advocacy Group (ECAG) was born, to provide a place for parents to support one another, advocate for clear pathways to resources, improve parent partnerships with the district, and increase understanding on both sides. Since that time, I’ve witnessed the district’s willingness to collaborate, improve practices and provide better support to the more than 1,000 families whose children receive services. Despite obstacles, this experience has solidified my belief that we all have a stake and responsibility in helping shape our schools and the lives of the students within them. We must be, to borrow a phrase, "All In."
My feelings about our school district are akin to those I have about Cleveland—it isn’t always easy nor is it flawless, and we spend an awful lot of time defending ourselves against those who don't know who we really are. Like our hometown teams, I believe our schools need the same active belief and support from the public to keep winning. That does not mean we stop asking tough questions, expecting accountability or anticipating positive results—it means we participate.
I am frightened by the thought of not passing the upcoming levy in November, because a loss could result in cuts to teachers and programming, such as the strong sports and music programs that unite students, parents and community. I think about what both the college prep and the special education programs have meant to the success of my sons and countless others.
If we fail to provide basic, critical funding, then educators and vital programs for our children could be eliminated. I believe a community shows its value by the quality of schools it keeps, and that support requires both investment and commitment. This November’s vote for the levy will send a message that we expect and believe in strong schools, and that we will work as a community to ensure we have them. Join me in going “All In” for education.
Lisa Hunt is a staffer at Reaching Heights and founding member of the Exceptional Children’s Advocacy Group. She is a resident of Cleveland Heights and a graduate of Heights schools. She also serves as board secretary for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities and seeks to help build awareness about ACC (see nodcc.org).