This partnership is real

This summer, 93 children, most of whom attend our public schools, registered to participate in the Heights Summer Music Camp. They spent seven hours a day, for a week, learning about and making music, pushing themselves, and responding to new challenges and high expectations. They worked hard, mastered new content, made new friends, learned about the joys of collaboration, and made music that bolstered their confidence, motivation and commitment.

I’ve been the camp’s director since it was started by the nonprofit Reaching Heights ( in 2005. I’m proud of our work and our contribution to instrumental music in our school district and in the lives of our children. This camp would not exist, however, if it were not for our exemplary partnership with the Cleveland Heights–University Heights City School District. There is a lot of talk about partnerships, but this one is the real deal.

Both partners bring unique resources to the venture and make it possible to offer an experience that is important to children and enhances the music program in our schools. We want and need our public schools to change the lives of children, but the state demands a lot and under-invests, exerting pressure on the use of time and money. Schools can’t do everything we want them to do. Partnerships like ours can help fill the gap.

Reaching Heights provided the vision and the leadership to initiate a summer music activity that is affordable and focused on our community. We supply the administrative time needed to recruit staff and campers, organize a meaningful curriculum and manage the implementation of the camp. Our goal is to be inclusive, so we raise funds to help underwrite costs and keep fees low. No one is ever turned away because of the cost.

The school district provides critical resources: space, equipment, and access to students. Without access to Heights High as the camp venue, the district-owned instruments that many campers depend on to enroll in a music class at school, or the ability to promote the camp to district students, there simply would be no camp.

The connection to the school district makes the camp logistically possible and is critical to sustaining the district’s reputation for musical excellence. We are doing more than keeping kids occupied in the summer; they are becoming members of our music community! Many of the professional camp staff teach in the district or are Heights High alumni. Camp participants are being welcomed into their high school by current Heights students who serve as mentors, and they are forming music-based bonds with other students from across the community.

Parents, of course, are also key partners. They contribute to the camp fee, get their kids to camp, value the camp experience for their children and offer support in multiple ways.

We know the arts are often second-class citizens when it comes to prioritizing how scarce public-education funds are spent. More of our students than ever rely on school-owned instruments and school-based music education to explore the life-changing experience of making music. The camp is a meaningful resource for addressing needs and pursuing equity in opportunity.

Music brings joy to our young musicians, their mentors and their teachers. I see it at camp every summer. I am grateful to every person who is part of this collaborative experience, and I am grateful that the school district sees value in a partnership built on shared goals, mutual respect and the substantial contributions of everyone involved.

Camp will never be a substitute for a robust music program in our schools, but it makes a meaningful and unique contribution.

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 17, Issue 7, Posted 7:51 AM, 06.26.2024