In the fall of 2015, The George Gund Foundation commissioned award-winning photographer Lisa Kessler to visit 11 Cleveland district and charter schools to document implementation of the Cleveland Plan, whose goals are to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a high-quality school and every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose. Kessler’s photos show schools that are full of energy and joy, collaboration and critical thinking, inspiration and creativity. Her images speak to transformation, progress, and growth. See this evolution through Kessler’s lens as she pictures these changing schools and changing minds.×
One day, my class received an assignment to write a poem. I had no idea how, and I was panicked. But I came up with a solution: copy the poem printed on my favorite pillowcase.
My teacher spoke with me after class. “I’d like you to write your own poem Lisa. In your own words.”
I was mortified at being caught. But Mrs. Manila was kind to me, and did not humiliate me in front of the class.
Upon my first visit to a public school in Cleveland, I was reminded of that experience, and transported back to one of the best parts of being a kid in school: being with adults who respect you. Adults who know that kids are capable and discerning.
I felt at ease in the Cleveland schools I visited and came to realize that was because students, staff, teachers and principals were all comfortable in their schools. They own the place.
At one elementary school, I saw a boy eating a snack in a common area. Just then the principal walked by, addressed him by name, and matter-of-factly told him to put the food back into his backpack: “You know the rules.” He also matter-of-factly put his snack away. Her authority wasn’t questioned, but he also wasn’t shamed.
Everywhere I went I saw students working in small groups, reading books, analyzing soil samples, conferring on a new choreography or working with a 3D printer. Teachers in art classes and honors physics classes alike sat down next to students to see the problem from their students’ perspective.
Some children’s schedules included one-on-one instruction, or participation in a psychologist led conversation about how to read social cues, or time to take a break and walk down the hall with a dean of students and school culture, who literally walks the hallways all day checking in with the middle schoolers. He, like most of the teachers and staff I met, is the oil that makes the engine run smoothly: students trust and feel safe with him. It struck me that there seemed to be no strangers in the schools. Everyone belongs.
Being in these schools in Cleveland made me love school again, a place where ideas and personalities fly around, and where it’s okay to be ourselves.
Lisa Kessler, June 2016Learn More about The