School days—for 12 more years
Ninety-six years ago, Joe Budin walked into Coventry School as a new kindergartner. It was 1926. He was 5 years old, and Coventry School was only one year older. In fact, though the first part opened in 1919, the whole school wasn’t actually completed until 1922.
Joe Budin, my father, went all the way through Coventry, then Roosevelt Junior High, and then Heights High. My brothers and I went all the way through all those schools, too. Then my son attended kindergarten in the new Coventry School building. He then went to Roxboro Elementary School, switched to Ruffing Montessori for a few years, and went to Heights High for all of high school.
Now my grandson is a little Heights Tiger, too, attending kindergarten at Fairfax, along with his sister, Westin, who’s a second-grader.
That’s four generations of a family, all in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school system, which is rare.
And not only that, but my son is the Heights High swim team coach, and my daughter-in-law teaches engineering and math at Heights, a position she has held since graduating from college, four years after she, herself, was a student there.
A few weeks ago, a high school friend of mine, Phil, made one of his very infrequent visits back to Cleveland Heights from his longtime home in Los Angeles. We drove all over the area, especially where he grew up, in the University Heights neighborhood that borders South Euclid. Then I wanted him to see the renovated Heights High. My daughter-in-law, teaching summer school, let us into the building after her classes, and showed us around. Phil was pleasantly surprised with the changes. Neither of us had enjoyed being students there, except for the music.
As Heights students, Phil and I were there mainly for the choir. On our visit, we went up to the fourth-floor choir room, which was basically the same as it had been, except that it was completely new. But, I mean, the basic structure was the same.
We also walked around the auditorium, where we had both spent a lot of time performing. It has been beautifully restored, and now even has dressing rooms, so kids no longer need to make quick costume changes on stage, behind the risers, as we used to do.
Phil and I had also taken music theory classes at Heights, taught by the orchestra director at that time. On our brief tour this summer, we also ran into the school’s current orchestra director, Daniel Heim, now in his 13th year, and talked to him for about a half hour. Phil and I, both longtime professional musicians, talked with Heim about the solid musical education we received at Heights, and about the large number of graduates of Heights High’s music programs who have become professional musicians, in every genre of music.
Phil left town around 1980. I stayed, got married and had kids. When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up and never have to see the insides of those schools again. But as soon as my kids started going to school, I got involved—because, by then, I had become a person who just gets involved (after hearing Pete Seeger speak at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum event). I started volunteering—for everything—at their schools. I even served as a “room mother” a few times. And especially when they got to Heights High.
The first year my son went to Heights, I was in the building more than 100 times, for a wide variety of reasons. I lectured to social studies and journalism classes. I became the president of the Band and Orchestra Parents Organization. I was on the committee that hired the new vocal music director. I helped start the Vocal Arts Parents Organization. I ran the concession stand for swim meets. I attended music concerts and sports events. And other things. In fact, at the end of that first year, I was walking through the front hall with my mother (who also graduated from Heights High), on our way to my son’s orchestra concert, when she said, “You’ve probably been in this building more times this past year than you were in your own last year here.” And she wasn’t kidding.
My father never wanted to be in school. I never did, either, though my brothers were okay with it. I lasted as long as I did there because of the Heights choir. My daughter never wanted to be in school, though my son was okay with it. My granddaughter loves school (so far). My grandson is just starting. He's only got 12 more years there. His personality is different from his sister’s. But I hope he loves it. If he doesn’t, he seems like he’s very musical, so there’s always that.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.