Last week, I had the privilege of visiting several high-poverty urban schools in Cleveland. Each was serving some of the nation’s most disadvantaged students and beating the odds by arming their pupils with the knowledge, values, and skills they need to succeed.
Whenever I visit a school, I look for the unplanned things that give you a window into hidden vibrancy or challenges in the community. During my visit to one school last week, two unplanned interruptions stood out. First, the assistant principal received a call from her middle school social studies teacher to share some good news: A group of their seventh graders won first place in the John Carroll University “We the People” Call for Action and Social Justice Program, the school’s third first-place victory in as many years.
Not long after, an upper-elementary math teacher stepped out to take a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers. It seems that one of her students is the only student in Ohio to be chosen for the NBA Math Hoops competition, and its organizers wanted to let her know that they were sending the Cavs mascot to cheer on the student.
Was I getting a VIP tour of the latest hot new charter management organization? No, it was just another day for St. Thomas Aquinas, a small Catholic school that, without fanfare or much in the way of resources, continues to work miracles, serving predominantly low-income voucher students in a neighborhood Fordham recently dubbed a “desert.”