Tuesday, May 05, 2020
The City is Our Campus
by Charles Ellenbogen, Teacher, Campus International School
At Campus International High School we have a motto – The City is Our Campus. It has its origin in two of your key principles. First, learning does not just happen in a classroom. Second, this city, divided in so many ways and by so different lines, belongs to all of us. Nowhere do those two ideas converge more effectively and more consistently than at the City Club.
During my 27 years of teaching, I’ve always been a fan of field trips – to the theatre, to the museums, etc.. But it is only recently, thanks to a fellowship at The Cleveland Museum of Art, that I realized that one of the great things about field trips is also one of the problems with field trips; we make them too special. As educators, we put pressure on ourselves to make sure everything goes perfectly. There’s so much at stake. There’s too much at stake. What if, I began to consider, field trips became a consistent part of what we do? That, I decided, would truly honor the spirit behind our motto.
It’s not that I don’t want our trips to the City Club to be considered special. Our students love being chosen for them. As a field trip veteran, I am always grateful when receiving organizations take students seriously. At the City Club, they always do – from the moment they enter and are asked for their lunch preference to the definite effort that is made to make sure they get an opportunity to ask their questions. On our most recent trip to the City Club before we get sent home for the year, we got off the RTA and the students, without any direction from me, started walking in the direction of the entrance. To me, the message was clear – the City Club, the students were saying, is part of our campus. To them, attending an event was like going to a class – except, as they constantly remind me, the food is better, especially the desserts.
Like everyone else, I imagine, including not just teachers and students, but parents and museums and theatres and everyone else involved in education, this adjustment to online education has been difficult. I have always kept my eye on the City Club calendar, so when I saw the announcement about the May 1st forum commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I was in. I told my students we were going on a field trip to the City Club, though they didn’t have to wear their school uniforms or get dressed up. When I explained the topic to them, they saw right away how it fit perfectly.
The theme for the second half of our year has been, “Nevertheless, She Resisted.” We’ve read literature like In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (I’d already arranged tickets for the students to see her in April) and Antigone (we had tickets to see the show at the Cleveland Play House in April as well; you see, I wasn’t kidding about my devotion to field trips) and talked about how in both literature and life, women often lead resistance movements, but that these stories are seldom told. Students constantly ask: How does this relate to the real world? The forum, I knew, would be one good response.
While I’d love to say that participation was massive, it wasn’t. On May 8th, Cleveland Metro School District’s CEO will be featured in a forum in which he discusses issues of the digital divide. Students have reported other issues as well, ranging from mental health to competing for time on their family’s devices. Still, those that participated were passionate in their responses. One 11th grader wrote:
If voting is inaccessible, how are people supposed to vote in America? This relates to Antigone, only Creon [the King] truly has a voice in the story. He makes a show of having advisers and speaking to others about his decision but only the oracle actually shifted his thinking. Under Creon when people spoke out for their beliefs they were punished. In the US, we also have the illusion of influence. But we don’t live in a true democracy if citizens don’t have a voice.
Another student, also soon to be a voter, started her response with this statement:
In all honesty, voting has never been FOR THE PEOPLE.
She then proceeded to explain her thinking. Another student replied, “If voting has never been FOR THE PEOPLE, then who is it for?”
A sophisticated response that involves making connections between the world and our literature. A civil exchange. These are skills students learn from their multiple experiences at the City Club. I’ve always believed that students rise to the level of our expectations. The City Club always keeps their expectations high. And, as you can see from the above, my students, who see the City Club as part of their campus, rise to meet them.