By: John B.C. Porter, Esquire
Credit unions are committed to giving back to the communities that they serve, as evidenced, for example, by the recent Ohio Credit Unions Marching Miles for Miracle Kids campaign. Much like the commitment credit unions have to community service, the Cleveland Bar Association (“CBA”) teamed-up with the Cleveland Municipal School District in a very unique way beginning in the Fall of 2006. Over 600 attorneys from the CBA, including myself, volunteered to go into 10th grade social science classrooms throughout the district in an attempt to better prepare these students for the social science portion of the new Ohio Graduation Test (“OGT”). All Ohio high school students must now pass this test in order to receive their diploma at the conclusion of their high school education. The name of the program developed by the CBA is “Rights, Responsibilities, and Realities” (“3Rs”). The intent of the program was for teams of four to six attorneys to spend approximately an hour and one-half with their assigned class five times a semester. A curriculum was developed and teaching materials prepared for each volunteer. The focus of each lesson was a different part of the United States Constitution, with a career-counseling portion at the end. The hope was by bringing attorneys into the classroom to discuss the Constitution in both a group and open-class environment, these students would gain a greater understanding of the Constitution and its ramifications. A corollary objective was to assist these students in developing better analytical skills as they applied what we discussed in class to the different fact patterns with which they were presented in the small group setting. The OGT is dense with essay questions and the students also needed help with better developing their ability to identify quickly and cogently the issue tested and then respond appropriately. The test was given in the middle of last month, so we have yet to learn whether our efforts will reap rewards for the students.
I was a member of one of two groups teamed up with Max S. Hayes High School, a vocational high school on Cleveland’s near West Side. It was a very interesting and challenging experience for me. I have not stepped foot in a high school since I graduated many years ago. I was lucky in that I graduated from an academically and financially enriched district. I was concerned as to how I would be received by students facing significantly different and more challenging life circumstances than I. The first classroom session was fairly nerve-wracking. The environment of this classroom, in an overburdened and under-funded school district, was quite different from my personal experience: One or two students appeared to be sleeping or not paying attention to what was happening in the classroom; some students were coming to class well after the bell rang; announcements interrupted us about two-thirds of our way through class. In all, things just seemed much more chaotic than I remember during my high school experience.
All of this, however, would probably lead you to believe that my experience was unrewarding or unpleasant. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of the students were incredibly bright and interested in what we had to say. They were eager to volunteer to read the fact pattern for the day, give their opinion as to how the “case” should be decided, and chime-in on whether they agreed with the final outcome. These students had a very acute sense of what was just and what wasn’t—what activities should be protected by the government, and which activities fall outside of constitutional protection. I often felt compelled to push the envelope, take the students beyond what the fact pattern allowed, but then realized this was not the appropriate forum for me to proselytize by personal politics.
Again, we do not yet know if our efforts were sufficient to properly equip these students with the requisite tools to succeed on the OGT. I would like to think that we were effective in teaching these students something, but I know for a fact that they taught me many lessons. It is easy for us, from the outside, to look at a struggling school district like Cleveland’s and point to all of the negative things that contribute to its failure. Being in the thick of it, even as a visitor, however, from the dedicated teachers down to the students who hunger for knowledge and success, you see that the constituent parts of this district are no different from that of any other district. The biggest difference is that students from traditionally enriched school districts are expected and encouraged to succeed, but I fear this is not the same story for students who are the product of less enriched districts.