We have great kids in our community

Summer has a way of flying by. The 2023–2024 school year will begin in Cleveland Heights–University Heights on Aug. 23, and, as we anticipate this annual back-to-school transition, I want to brag about our kids and reassure my fellow citizens that investing in our young people is worth it! We have great kids and we have a lot to learn from them and give to them.

Like most senior citizens and residents of our community, I don’t have a lot of everyday contact with young people. As director of the Reaching Heights-sponsored Heights Summer Music Camp, though, I have spent a week every summer since 2005 surrounded by adolescents. This summer I witnessed the interactions and musical development of 75 Heights students who had just completed fifth- through eighth-grade in our public schools, 27 Heights High teenaged musicians, two college student alums of the Heights music program, and 18 amazing music professionals.

In one week, this intergenerational hodgepodge of unique individuals became a special community, united in a common project, supportive of each other and willing to tackle significant musical challenges. They grew by leaps and bounds!

Our young people are vulnerable and can be awkward as they look for social acceptance, establish their identities, navigate individual challenges and make sense of this often-harsh historic period. It’s a lot, but the camp setting was a perfect environment for developing competence and comfort, and observing their strengths.

Music-making is a collaborative project. Campers worked on their skills as members of a chamber group; orchestra; instrument section; or a percussion, ukulele or jazz ensemble. It was cooperative and cognitively demanding. As our campers adjusted to the daily routine and started to work in each musical setting, their warm hearts, sincerity, curiosity, uncertainty, desire to grow and acceptance of others were visible.

High school mentors helped diagnose issues to be solved, coached campers as they worked on skills, demonstrated what is achievable, brought creativity and fun to each day, and modeled what a love of music looks like. Their enthusiasm, skills and patience were always on view. They were a fabulous resource for campers, each other, and adult staff.

Every part of the camp day oozed with one-to-one connections that helped campers build skills and confidence, and develop friendships. These connections enabled campers to feel at home, cared about, capable and important. They soared!

More than one staff member said the camp's inclusivity was what made it such a positive place. From enrollment and staffing to the attitudes and interactions among staff and campers, everyone was included and welcomed, regardless of skill, age, race or gender identity. Diversity is a strength, and it showed every day at camp.

Saxophone specialist Nathan Holaway bragged about the inclusive attitudes of the high school jazz players, who used every free moment to jam in the band room, while welcoming novice players and teachers to join them.

Low brass specialist Daniel Hershman-Rossi appreciated that the camp was playful and welcoming. Conductor Dan Heim’s ability to inject humor into the hard work of a rehearsal, and the playfulness of silly hats, stuffed animals and group costumes, added to an environment where everyone could be themselves.

Music camp puts me in touch with great kids and shines a light on the kind of support and environment that helps them thrive. Great kids are everywhere. They need us to support, encourage and trust them. Thanks and best wishes, teachers, for doing your best to bring out the best in our great kids as another school year begins!

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. A community booster, she is the author of a book about local activism, Resisting Segregation.

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Volume 16, Issue 8, Posted 3:06 PM, 07.31.2023