On Tuesday, August 22, 2017 East Tech High School became the ninth CMSD school to serve as a Boys & Girls Club site, joining John Adams and Lincoln-West high schools and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Michael R. White, Andrew J. Rickoff, Mound, Luis Muñoz Marin and Walton schools. Nationally, Boys & Girls Clubs have moved from operating stand-alone centers to co-existing alongside partners like the school district.
The East Tech Teen Center will be open from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays and serve young people from the neighborhood. Club and school officials say the East Tech center will provide an after-school sanctuary for teenagers concerned about gang violence and other danger on neighborhood streets.
“We know teens are most likely to get in trouble during the hours right after school, and we are excited to offer positive alternatives to risky behavior,” said Ron Soeder, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
Richard Starr, director of a Boys & Girls Club at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s King Kennedy property, will also oversee the East Tech Teen Center. Starr graduated from East Tech in 2007.
“The idea with the club at East Tech was to really let the space be the draw. Once the kids start coming to the club, then we will introduce programming and promote safe socialization,” Starr said. “Opening a club at East Tech has been a dream of our for a long time and this location we fill a much-need niche for the kids that loiter or linger around after school.”
Starr adds that the club at East Tech will hopefully help alleviate some stress and worries for parents.
Club members will have use of a new “learn and play center,” where they can go after school to work on computers, study, get in a game of pool or table tennis and play board games.
The former library was renovated through the NBA Cares program. League and Cavaliers representatives dedicated the facility in June, during the NBA Finals.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland operates 16 locations in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland. Last year, the clubs served more than 7,000 kids, emphasizing healthy lifestyles, academic success, character and citizenship.
Violence is prevalent in the Central neighborhood. When compared to other Cleveland neighborhoods, Central has the second highest rate of aggravated assaults and the fifth highest of reported domestic violence incidents. Children witnessing or being a victim of violence is not uncommon in Central and can have lasting impacts on children,which is why the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood decided to do something. Promise Neighborhood is providing teachers in two Central neighborhood Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools with training in how to address the unique needs of students who experience trauma.
In the coming months teachers at Marion-Sterling and Alfred A. Benesch Schools will receive six hours of training that will cover the psychological and physiological effects trauma has on children and classroom strategies for helping students overcome barriers to learning.
Richaun Bunton, education performance manager at Central Promise Neighborhood, said teachers and schools feel the impact of violent incidents that happen weekly in the neighborhood.
“If that’s what students are seeing on the way to school, they’re not just worrying about if they did their homework or if they’re doing well in class,” Bunton said. “Now they’re thinking about the fact that they saw a dead body on the way to school.”
Students who grow up in Central often face more challenges than those in other areas. The child poverty rate (81.2 percent) is higher than any other neighborhood in Cleveland, according to Center for Community Solutions. Children there are also more likely than others to be exposed to gun violence, sexual violence and, most prevalently, domestic violence.
These are some of the statistics that Marion-Sterling School teachers learned during their first, hour-long training session with crisis intervention specialists from FrontLine.
Frontline is a local outreach agency that specializes in behavioral health, homelessness and trauma. They spent an hour with the Marion-Sterling teaching staff discussing the effects that violence can have on children’s mental health and academic performance and what teachers can do in their classrooms to alleviate some of the symptoms that make it harder for the children to learn.
Rosemary Creeden, a licensed social worker and the associate director of trauma programs at FrontLine, is one of the three trainers working with CMSD teachers.
“We want to help teachers understand the impact of trauma on the children they are teaching and some of the reactions to trauma that children may exhibit in the classroom,” Creeden said. “They can look at these behaviors through a different lens, through a trauma-awareness lens.”
These behaviors include difficulty focusing, increased anxiety, restlessness, irritability and withdrawal, among others, Creeden said. Students might also come to school feeling very tired because they had difficulty sleeping.
“When we read about shootings in the news, we have to remember there are children who live in those neighborhoods who hear those gunshots, and the people being hurt in these gun exchanges are people they know,” she said.
Many CMSD teachers are keenly aware of what their students go through. Lakesha Boyd, first-grade teacher at Marion-Sterling, said she sees the effects that Creeden described almost every day in her classroom.
Last year, one of Boyd’s students had a family member who was shot to death, and Boyd noticed a major shift in the girl’s behavior. The girl experienced emotional highs and lows and seemed to suddenly be attached at Boyd’s hip.
Boyd attended the first training and is hopeful that she’ll learn strategies to help her students.
“Working in a community where you see students struggle with different things from home, I think that the training will be very beneficial,” Boyd said. “It already gave me some ideas for what I can do in the classroom to help with the different issues I see.”
While most of the first training focused on informing teachers about how trauma affects students, Creeden and her colleagues also took some time to go over some helpful classroom activities.
Some activities centered around mindfulness in the classroom, like chair yoga and breathing exercises. Another, called “thumb ball,” involves writing fun or academic questions on a beach ball. The participants gather in a circle and throw the ball. Whoever catches it must answer the question that his or her thumb lands on. It’s a way to promote movement and help children relieve stress.
The next sessions will delve further into classroom techniques and how teachers can build resiliency in both students and themselves.
Boyd, the first-grade teacher, has been following some of the news around neighborhood crime and is keeping it in mind as she welcomes her students back from summer break. She is glad she found a use for the bag of beach balls she brought to her classroom over the summer. The “thumb ball” activity, she said, might be a good way to break the ice.
Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood and Cleveland Transformation Alliance partnered with Friendly Inn Settlement to help Central neighborhood families have a positive start to the new school year with the Back to School Rally.
Now in its sixth year, the 2017 Back to School Rally at Friendly Inn Settlement drew more than 1,500 Central residents who received information about neighborhood schools, educational and family resources, free haircuts, schools uniforms and more.
More than 15 barbers from Urban Kutz and La Barberia donated their time and talents to help children look their best for the start of school on August 14, 2017 by offering free haircuts and braiding. By the end of the event 105 children received free haircuts and 26 had their hair braided.
For this year’s event, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood wanted to increase families’ access to community schools so the organization partnered with Cleveland Transformation Alliance for the Back to School Rally. Cleveland Transformation Alliance helped bring more than 20 Cleveland schools to the fair to speak with families to make sure parents got all the information they needed to help them decide on the school that is the best fit for their child. Cleveland Transformation Alliance also offered catalogs of all the schools available, both charter and city schools, with mission statements, descriptions and ratings for each school.
“I’ve been in education over 15 years, my entire career,” said Steven Lake, project manager, Cleveland Transformation Alliance . “I’ve worked the majority of that time in the Central neighborhood. It is a wonderful community, with a lot of resources. Today, together with these partners all under one roof, we can get the community excited about education and start the school year off with a bang.”
Cleveland.com noted the longest line in the auditorium was for the Central Promise Neighborhood table, and it was more than a hundred people deep. Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood gave away book bags and school uniforms. As parents waited in line, their children moved from table to table around the auditorium, picking up pencils, crayons, bubbles, sunglasses and many other freebies.
“My main goal today is to put a smile on these kids faces,” said event attendee Sierra Bradley. “I want to keep these kids happy. It’s good to see our kids like this, they excited and looking forward to going back to school. That’s what’s up.”
WEWS-TV News Channel 5 also did a feature on the Back to School Rally that can be viewed here.