Urban community comes together for schools and kids

While local communities must contribute, the OSFC has provided over $9 billion to the rebuilding of schools across the state in the past 20 years.

When Hugo was a first-grader at Case Elementary School, I attended meetings on the construction of the new building. We knew Case would be one of the last Akron schools to get rebuilt, which I figured would happen during Hugo’s fifth-grade year.

The doors of the new Case Elementary will open to students this fall. Hugo will be a senior at the University of Rochester.

You may have noticed I said “Case Elementary” and not “Case Community Learning Center.” Technically, I’m wrong, but can we talk?

The first time I saw an Akron school named a “community learning center” was when Portage Path Elementary reopened in the fall of 2010. It confused me. Did that mean anyone in the community could just walk in and use the resources of the school, you know, like a public library? Wouldn’t that be unsafe?

Of course, it would. But someone decided where two words, “elementary school” or “high school,” are clear to most Americans, three ambiguous words are better. I disagree.

Akron has a great sense of community. It’s the primary reason my family is committed to living here. And institutions can help foster community, but not simply by applying a label.

So I hope you, and my editors, will forgive me for calling a school a school.

My big boys went to myriad schools, both private and public, for kindergarten through eighth grade. But they have all attended Firestone High School. For many reasons, I feel Firestone is the ideal of what a public high school can be. Beyond standard academics, it has a school for the visual and performing arts, an international baccalaureate program and an engineering program.

Most importantly, it’s integrated. Diversity is as essential as English and algebra to a high school education because it gives daily, concrete form to the notion that all people are equally human. Just telling students in a homogenous district does not have the same impact.

My first three boys are athletes. Arguably, Hugo is the best but he did not participate in high school athletics because it conflicted with his musical pursuits. Claude (class of 2012) and Jules (class of ’19) are cross country runners and each has won the Akron city championship.

But winning beyond local championships is not common for most urban schools. Oh, it is done from time to time. In 2012, Firestone’s Sarah Meeks qualified for the state championship race in cross country and in 2015, Harley Moyer, also from Firestone, qualified for the 3,200 race at the state track championships.

But, by and large, the teams who win at district, regional and state competitions, year after year, are the wealthier suburban districts. The undeniable fact is they have more resources, including better facilities and more coaches.

Community steps up

The funding of new schools has been a tremendous benefit to Akron Public Schools. While OSFC does not cover all the costs associated with rebuilding schools, the cost is greatly reduced, which made rebuilding feasible.

What OSFC funding does not do is allow for improvements such as larger gymnasiums or football stadiums. Those can be incorporated into the master plan, but must be funded by local communities. As OSFC points out in its fact sheet, “lower wealth districts are less able to pursue such initiatives than are wealthier districts because of their smaller local tax base.”

This is where community comes in.

Last month, Claude and I attended a meeting with Firestone’s coaches and boosters representing sports from bowling to soccer to discuss improvements to the athletic facilities. The school’s athletic director proposed the installation of a new weight room and teaching the coaches up-to-date weight-training methods.

In the past, the weight room hasn’t always felt like it was available to all athletes. Certain teams, namely football and basketball, seemed to have priority. The new weight room, should it get funded, will have the capacity to train all of the school’s athletes.

On Aug. 4, Firestone’s first golf outing fundraiser for athletic programs will be held at Mayfair Country Club in Green. The primary beneficiary will be the weight room. The PTSA at Firestone also will match donations made by May 31, up to $10,000.

Back at Case …

Several years ago, Craig Sampsell, an intervention specialist at Case Elementary, saw a flyer for a 5K fundraiser for a private preschool. “Why don’t we do that?” he thought, and the Race for Case, a certified 5K, was born.

Its first two years, 2012 and 2013, the Race for Case raised money for technology, including SMART Boards, iPads, and desktop and laptop computers.

The next two years, the proceeds were used to upgrade the playground at the new Case. Fully funded by grants and the race proceeds, the new playground surpasses the minimum standards for ADA compliance and is far more deluxe than what OSFC funds alone would have purchased. This is a boon not only for Case students, but also for children in the community who can play there after school.

Last year, proceeds went toward building a greenhouse at the new Case Elementary.

This year, wanting to help other schools in the Firestone cluster, Sampsell reached out to Firestone boosters who want to upgrade the track and field to include a rubberized track and the installation of stadium lights. This will allow Firestone to hold track meets and the soccer team to host games at night.

“Most of our kids will eventually attend Litchfield [Middle School] and Firestone, so it makes sense to have our now-established race help with this project.”

Registration for the 2018 Race for Case allows participants to choose which project they wish the proceeds of their registration to benefit — either the greenhouse at Case or the track and field at Firestone.

Sampsell says the May 19 race is open to everyone and walking the course is an option. The 1-mile fun run will be at 8 a.m. and the 5K starts at 8:30. Register by the first week of May and you’re guaranteed a shirt, but walk-up registrations will also be available on the day of the race.

Most of the boosters working on these projects will no longer have children in the school district once the projects are completed, but their commitment to the community, the kids and the schools remains.

Boy, do I love Akronites.

Sign up here for the Race for Case.

For information on first Falcon Athletics golf outing, go to the Facebook page “Falcon Athletics Golf Outing” or contact Brian Fuller at bmf5454@gmail.com.

This column first appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, April 22, 2018.


Getting Kids to Eat a Healthy Diet–Relax!

Mothers trying to get their kids to eat is such a universal stereotype, I’m pretty sure it’s hardwired in all women’s brains.

Long before humans farmed, we were hunter-gatherers. So, too, were our direct ancestors, Homo erectus, for nearly 2 million years. I’m also pretty sure for all those eons of food insecurity, women pushed their kids to eat as much as possible whenever food was available.

In 1939, Dr. Clara Davis, a Canadian pediatrician, presented the results of her longitudinal study on self-selection diets of young children. Entering the study as recently weaned infants, they were given 33 healthy foods to choose to eat at each meal for several years.

While the children chose different foods from one another (and different from the recommended diet at the time), they all ate similar proportions of proteins, carbohydrate and fats. Overweight kids slimmed down, underweight kids gained weight. One child with severe rickets chose to drink cod liver oil.

The takeaway? Present your children with healthy food options and they will eat a balanced diet. Maybe not each day, but over time.

Small children

For infants who are weaning off breast milk or formula, all food is new. With my first baby, I introduced rice cereal when he was 6 months old. He refused to eat it, or anything else, and exclusively breastfed until he was a year old.

He then became an adventurous young eater. My friends from South Asia marveled at toddler Claude eating spicy curries their own children wouldn’t try. (Indian cooking remains a favorite of Claude’s and for many years we took him to the Saffron Patch for his birthday.)

Some small children strike on a food they enjoy and then want it all the time. For months, toddler Jules wanted chicken. Always thin, I used to call Jules my “air fern” because he ate so little. If he wanted chicken, I made him chicken. Then he switched to eggs and for months, that was his primary protein.

Kids eat free at Macaroni Grill on Mondays and Tuesdays

Vegetables are a hard sell with most children. You can sneak it in them pureed when they are toddlers, but they won’t eat baby food forever. Again, find what vegetable they do like and go deep. Lyra loves broccoli right now. We give it to her nearly every day.

School-age children

Every kid I’ve ever met loves carbohydrates. Here are some tricks to get them to eat something that isn’t white and processed:

Give them false choices. For example: “You can have green beans or broccoli with your hamburger.” And then tell them no dessert until the vegetables are finished. If they leave anything on the plate, I prefer the protein over the vegetable.

Give them vegetables first. Hugo was my pickiest eater. I’d often make him eat five baby carrots or peanut-butter filled celery before I’d give him the rest of his lunch.

Hide the vegetables. My kids think spaghetti sauce is thick and stew-like. Ours always includes sautéed onions and garlic, grated zucchini and whatever other vegetables I can dice small enough so they won’t know it’s in there. Even the universally kid-abhorred mushrooms can slip by undetected if small enough.

Buy healthy carbohydrate alternatives. We get Ronzini SuperGreens pasta at Acme. It tastes fine, but has a lower glycemic index and more fiber that white pasta. Whole wheat pasta is also a healthier option, but I don’t like how gummy it is.

Always have fruit available. Our kitchen counter has a bowl of washed apples (Jules easily eats 10 pounds of apples a week) and a second bowl of other fruit. Clementines are great because little hands can peel them on their own.

My kids never have to ask to eat fruit, though I wish they’d always finish it. Sometimes in the bowl I find an apple with a trail made by a small mouth. She came, she nibbled, she returned the apple to its kin.


So far, all the teens I’ve raised have been boys. When Claude and Hugo were very little, a woman who taught me many parenting skills warned: When they are teenagers, you will not believe that a gallon of milk will be gone in one afternoon.

Around age 13, most boys experience a big growth spurt. Twice, once with Claude and once with Jules, they came down for breakfast taller than when they went to bed the night before. Their bones may ache, they often need more sleep. And, wow, do they eat.

When Claude was in high school, we called him the “Gaping Maw.” I double or triple most recipes not only to have enough for one meal, but also for leftovers. When Claude was growing, there were never any leftovers.

One benefit of teenage boys is we rarely throw away food. It all gets eaten.

Though 17, Jules is still growing. My onetime air fern, who had such light bones I carried him on my hip until he was 6, is now 6 foot 5. He’s a really good kid, but I can’t trust him with food I don’t want him to eat. Even if I tell him not to eat it and even if he promises he won’t, he still will. And there went the box of Malley’s Bordeaux Max gave me for Valentine’s.

When he was in the eighth grade, picky Hugo stopped eating carbohydrates. His portions became smaller and he rarely finished what was on his plate. I became worried that he was developing an eating disorder, but he vehemently denied it.

I took him to our pediatrician and also met with an eating disorder specialist. Hugo pulled through and later admitted he had been fasting in an unhealthy way, but didn’t believe he had an eating disorder.

Estimates are that only 5 to 15 percent of people in the U.S. with eating disorders are male. Because it is so uncommon in boys and men, it can be harder to detect because it might not occur to a parent that their son has an eating disorder.

If you have any inkling a child has an eating disorder, contact a health care professional immediately.

Today, Claude and Hugo mostly cook for themselves and regularly call me for recipes of various dishes they ate growing up. When he was in middle school, Jules became a fabulous cook and baker. He made his first salmon almandine at age 12. He’s too busy now to cook elaborate meals.

I miss those days and hope they eventually return.