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.


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