Friday, September 21, 2007

What's So Good About CMSD?

More than a hundred high school students from schools across the district found their way to the Idea Center at Playhouse Square Thursday afternoon to experience the arts. The event drawing them together was the 6th annual All City Arts Program open house, designed to introduce CMSD high school students to the after school program.

In small groups they met with professional artists in a variety of arts disciplines to explore new outlets of creative expression. They danced, sang, acted, painted, and learned how to perform poetry that they wrote.

Before they left that evening the students gathered in the Westfield theater to present their afternoon's work to the group. The energy in the theater was remarkable. The applause and cheering could be heard throughout the building for more than half an hour as the teenagers amazed themselves and each other with their presentations.

The All City Arts Program has evolved over the past 6 years from simply a cadre of student performance groups to an after-school art school for Cleveland high school students. Meeting twice a week at the new John Hay High School at University Circle, the program will offer arts experiences for teenagers across the district that are not available to them in the regular curriculum's of the individual high schools.

This year, for the first time, the visual arts have been added to All-City with the creation of the Atelier program. Atelier students will meet at John Hay Monday and Wednesday afternoons for workshops, and have the opportunity to participate in field trips and other arts events and programs throughout the city. October 1st will begin the first session.

Thursday September 27th at 4:00, arts organizations from across Cleveland will be meeting at Trinity Commons to discuss after school programing for teens, and to brainstorm ideas for new collaborations and the development of new partnerships.

If you are interested in attending this meeting please send me an e-mail.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cleveland Students Talk About Guns

I posed the question again to another group of students. "What do you think is the reason for all the gun violence in the city lately?"

Once again, the answer was immediate, but this time it was different.


"Can you explain ?"

"Well, if you sell drugs you need a gun, 'cuz you have to protect yourself from the crazy crackheads who buy from you, and you have to protect your money too, because when people know you're sellin' they'll try to jump you for either the drugs or the cash."

"Are guns easy to get in Cleveland?"

"Real easy"

One of the girls who lives in Slavic Village, a neighborhood that has been in the news lately for several violent crimes, walked across the room to join the conversation. "My little brother was playing soldier outside, and he came running in the house with a loaded handgun that he found on the tree lawn."

"Wow! Lucky he didn't shoot someone. What did you do?"

"My mom took it away from him."

"Did she call the police?"

" I don't know."

One of the boys offered, "That gun probably had a body on it. Why else would someone toss it?"

Another boy countered, "Guns with bodies don't get tossed whole, they take 'em apart and get rid of them piece by piece. Throw 'em in the lake."

"How do you know this stuff?" I asked.

"Doesn't everyone?"

"Gee, I must be out of the loop. " I shook my head "What do you know? You can learn something new everyday."

My student's face took on the subtle smirk of superiority. He knew something I didn't. He was smarter than the teacher.
I think that's what they call "street smart."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cleveland, Ohio: "The Shoot 'Em Up City". My Students Respond

"Hey! Do you have today's paper?"

"No, I forgot to bring one up this morning. Why?"

"My picture's in it!"

I smiled, "Well, that's a pretty big deal. Go down to the office and see if they have any more copies."

Ten minutes later Joe walked back into the classroom, opened the paper up and said, "See, there I am."

There in a picture that took up most of the page, was Joe, standing with a group of people in the hospital room of Johanna Orozco. Johanna was a girl from his near west side neighborhood who was raped and then shot in the face by her ex-boyfriend, another kid from the neighborhood. The Plain Dealer ha been running a series all week on the story of Johanna's tragic ordeal, and her heroic struggle to recover.

"You must know her very well"

"Oh, yeah. We have been friends for a long time. I know Juan Ruiz too, we went to school together. We used to be friends."

"Things must have been awful, very confusing, when this first happened."

"Even before that. Oh yeah.
Juan had been asking me questions about her, like what was she doing, who was she seeing. Then after she was shot, and the police and reporters started asking questions, some of his people started calling me up, warning me not to talk."

"You got threatening phone calls?"

"Yeah, anonymous callers. But I didn't care. They can't scare me. I'll talk to whoever I want to talk to."

"Nothing happened?"

"No, I told the police, the reporters, everything I know."

Joe took the paper to his table and spread it open to read the article, which was several pages long. After a few minutes he folded the paper up, got his project out and began to sketch. The rest of the students were busy working too, so I decide to take advantage of the quiet, and the mood, to ask the class a question; "Why do you guys think we've had so many shootings in Cleveland lately?"

Without so much as a seconds' hesitation, Joe nearly spat the word, "Scarface!"

"Scarface? How's that?"

"You know, Scarface, the best movie ever. It's like everybody wants to be Al Pacino. Somebody pisses him off and, BAM! He shoots 'em."

One of the girls chimed in, "It's not just Scarface, there's lots of movies like that. Video games too. You shoot people to get points, you run from the cops, then if you get caught or killed, there are no other consequences, it's just 'game over'."

The girl's friend, sitting beside her, continued to draw, and without looking up, quietly added, "But in real life, shooting a person doesn't end a problem, it's really just the beginning."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

'It is one of life's great ironies: schools are in the business of teaching and learning, yet they are terrible at learning from one another. If they ever discover how to do this, their future is assured.'

Fullan 2001

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Year: Old Problems, New Programs

It's that incredibly disturbing trick of time. If you've been around for more than a couple of decades, you know what I mean. The older you get, the faster time passes.

We are three weeks into the school year already, and interim progress reports will be due in two more weeks.

Because this is Cleveland, I dare not even enter names in my district issued grade book yet, as my class rosters continue to change daily. In fact, three weeks ago I only had four classes listed on my schedule, a fifth class was added last week, and the principal informed me yesterday I will be teaching a sixth class, probably starting next week. When I was a rookie Cleveland teacher 19 years ago, I was told to keep a temporary roster and not even attempt to enter names in my grade book until after ADM week (the first full week of October) since the teacher and student shuffle in the district never subsides until all bodies are accounted for and redistributed. The same holds true today. I wonder if this happens in all big city districts, or if this annual lack of organization is unique to Cleveland.

I have now been officially hired as the director of the All City Arts Program Atelier, a consultant position that will keep me busy after school, and occasionally, on weekends. The Atelier is being designed as an extra-curricular (after-school/weekend) activity for talented high school students throughout the district. The idea is to partner with community arts organizations across the city to provide visual arts experiences for students that they cannot get in a regular classroom.

This month we will be having two planning meetings; the first with all the CMSD high school teachers and the second with the arts community. These will be brainstorming sessions where we will introduce the program, discuss possibilities, identify potential partners, and envision how the arts can help create a new future for Cleveland. Anyone who is interested in participating in this discussion please email me, and I will send you more information.

The Atelier was kicked-off this summer with a pilot program, entitled Atelier Summer Intensive. Sponsored by the Human Fund , and launched in collaboration with two community arts organizations - Passport Project on Cleveland’s east side and Art House on the west side of the city - students traveled to Pittsburgh in July to visit the Mattress factory and the Warhol Museum. In the three weeks following the trip, they worked with artists on photography and printmaking projects, inspired by the work of Andy Warhol. Artists Jen Craun and Laura Webb shared their lesson plans with CMSD high school teachers so that other students in the district could also participate in the Warhol inspired projects. Selected student work will be auctioned in October along with original artwork by Andy Warhol at the Human Fund annual benefit gala.

Next week , PBS channels 45 and 49 will be sending a TV crew to my classroom to film part of a story on the Human Fund. Some folks love to be on TV; not me. I agreed to the interview, even though I really hate being in front of the camera. I'm very self conscious, and never watch or listen to tapes of any interviews I've ever done, at least if I can avoid it. The segment is scheduled to air October 11th, 12th, and 13th . So if you want to, go ahead and check it out...I'm planning on being busy not watching TV.