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13 Years a Raider

Our time with Shaker Schools has been rich and full of both challenges and triumphs.

By Beth Friedman-Romell

Front of Shaker Heights High School

“Where has the time gone?” is a parental question I have never really understood. As I look back on the past 13 years of my son Steven’s journey through the Shaker school system, it does NOT seem like “just yesterday” that he was in kindergarten! The time has been rich and full of both challenges and triumphs.

We moved into the Ludlow neighborhood in June 2001, full of the usual hopes and anxieties of young parents. I recall walking one humid evening, shortly before school began, to the Onaway playground with my husband, Steven, and son #2, Harlan, in utero. I wondered, “Will Steven make friends? Will I make friends? How will I manage work, a new baby, and a house and yard of our own? Is this a baby or a watermelon in my stomach?”

As I gazed at the homey brick building reminiscent of my own elementary school (Malvern), I prayed that Steven would find the nurturing teachers, interesting work, and close friends that I recalled from my own years.

If I were Queen of the School Board, seventh graders would either be home schooled and/or put into community service for a year. Under no circumstances would they be allowed to mingle with each other, or anyone else.

Onaway met all the expectations. The school fostered the values of caring and creativity, from principal Lynn Cowen, to the regular and special-class teachers and the support staff. Dr. Cowen was always trying new approaches if the old ones weren’t working, both in the classroom and in extracurriculars. When it was discovered that Steven’s grade had quite a few students who were advanced in math, a special class was created for them. I found a niche in re-starting the environmental committee. Other parents thrived in creating Onaway Little Theater. And everyone loves the fall picnic and spring carnival.

We had a few bumps along the way, to be sure. Imagine getting a call that your first-grader is in the office because he told his teacher “he wanted to die.” Well, it turns out that he was really tired of being at school that day, and he thought that if he died, he would get to go home early.

It was always clear that Steven would go his own way. He began growing his red, curly hair long at the end of second grade, despite some kids’ teasing and adults’ confusion. (“Young lady, you can’t go in the men’s locker room!”)

When Steven was at Woodbury, his passion for creative writing flourished in the Enriched Language Arts program. So it was hard for me to understand how the same kid could effortlessly produce pages of fanciful prose about cake ingredients and wicked witches, but agonize for hours over a simple book report. The beginnings of Steven’s alarming tendency to complete only homework he liked began to surface during this period, to reach its nadir in high school.

The simultaneous highlight and low point of Woodbury for me had to be the Native American Fair, when I narrowly avoided poisoning the fifth grade class. We decided it would be cool to make acorn bread, since we had so many oak trees on our street.

It’s simple. Just:

  • Con all the neighborhood kids into collecting acorns.

  • Remove all wormy acorns.

  • Collect more acorns, since you’ve just thrown two-thirds of them away.

  • Remove tannic acid. Acorns have lots of it. It’s poisonous. The Native Americans used to suspend the acorns in a clear stream for a really long time to wash the tannins away. We took a “short cut” by boiling them over and over again, changing the water each time.

  • Ready to order acorn flour off the Internet yet? No? Then roast the acorns and try to ignore that peculiar smell coming from your oven.

  • Throw away more wormy ones you overlooked before.

  • Grind the rest into fine flour for baking. Get a new food processor.

  • Bake bread; serve at fair; don’t sleep for 48 hours until you’re sure nobody’s died.

  • Vow that kid #2 will make a bow and arrow for his fair project.

 

Middle School. Honestly, what kid likes middle school? If I were Queen of the School Board, seventh graders would either be home schooled and/or put into community service for a year. Under no circumstances would they be allowed to mingle with each other, or anyone else.

Fortunately for Steven, he was able to find a niche in Middle School by performing in the plays. At Shaker High, Steven was able to delve deeply into his passion for the arts in a way that is truly rare at a secondary school. To write music and plays, to make videos and graphic design projects, and to collaborate with like-minded peers have been Steven’s raison d’etre for the past four years. The depth and breadth of course offerings and extra-curricular activities allow students to imagine themselves in arts careers, and begin honing practical skills and processes that are usually taught in the first year or two of college.

I am tremendously proud of the work Steven has done at Shaker High, and the recognition he has received within and outside school. But my all-time favorite Shaker Theater moment was watching then principal Michael Griffith, dressed as a policeman, dance an Irish jig in the ensemble of “Wonderful Town.” I hope his commitment, courage, and joy inspire the same in all our students.

My college freshman has indeed been long in the making. Thank you, Shaker teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and students, for helping us along the way.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Fall 2014.