GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio – News 5’s Katie Ussin has visited school districts in Northeast Ohio to learn about their challenges and achievements.
Garfield Heights City Schools faces challenges as it begins this new school year. There were safety concerns and a teachers’ strike was avoided with a new contract reached last month.
However, new leadership at headquarters has renewed hope among staff and students that the district can overcome these challenges together while growing the good.
Jalyn Ricks is in fifth grade at Elmwood Elementary School. He just found out he made the basketball team, which he’s super excited about, but says he’s more proud of his accomplishments off the court.
“Come to school every day, do my job and pay attention,” said Jalyn.
His excellence in the classroom has earned him Student of the Month.
“To get this award – it’s just great because it shows you’re doing a good job,” he said.
Celebrating the good with initiatives like this is just one of the ways Elmwood Elementary keeps kids motivated and engaged while focusing on the whole child, says school counselor Jen Huncharek.
They want to “show them what they’re doing here matters,” Huncharek said.
She says they also do a lot of work on emotional learning.
The Ohio Board of Education recently awarded Elmwood the highest rating for creating a safe and supportive school environment, which is part of the state’s strategic plan for education.
Huncharek says the reward is reflected in students like Jalyn.
“Every day when I get up, I have that mindset of: I’m ready to learn. Today is going to be a good day, and let’s go,” said Jalyn.
Meanwhile, there is also something to celebrate in high school.
The National Honor Society is helping launch a new mental health initiative at their school.
NHS students will train to provide peer-to-peer support. It will be modeled on the successful program in schools in Parma.
NHS seniors Micheal and Makayla say it’s needed at their school.
“I look forward to helping people and making sure that something we’ve wanted to start for years becomes a reality,” said Makayla Svoboda.
“I went through depression and I still have anxiety that I deal with,” said Micheal Dimond. “So I would really like to help people. All my life I’ve always wanted to help people.”
“This has been one of my big goals before I decided to retire, whenever that may be,” said Joni Wanderstock with a smile.
She had wanted to run a mental health program there for years.
Wanderstock is a high school intervention specialist who has been a teacher for 43 years.
She is also the NHS adviser. She gets emotional when she talks about her students, and it’s clear that their well-being and hers are intertwined.
“I really love them, and they know I love them and that makes it even more special,” she said.
Wanderstock credits the new superintendent for helping make the mental health program a reality. She says he has generated a lot of optimism for the district’s future.
“We’re all in this together,” said Dr. Richard Reynolds, Superintendent of Garfield Heights City Schools. “So we have to make sure we take care of each other, and I’ve seen a lot of great sparks from people who really take care of business. I want to support that, highlight those things and show everybody in this area — show everybody in the district — that we can do this. We can do great work. We can take care of kids if we do this together.”
Elmwood is hosting the state launch of the Ohio Skills League for the Heroes League. It is an online game-based learning platform.
Elmwood was one of the first schools in the state to trial it, and the district says early data indicates it has improved test scores among ELA, math and science participants.
Garfield Heights is a district with approximately 3,100 students and 500 employees.
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