Fair offers support, guidance for high school-bound students and families
Story by Justin Glanville Photos by Julie Van Wagenen
The summer before his first year at John Marshall High School, Antonio Perez was terrified.
“I was the nerdiest, shyest person in the world,” he told an audience of middle school students and their parents at the West Side High School Fair, organized to help families make an active and informed high school choice. “I had no idea whether I’d be accepted.”
He thought his temperament would make him stand out in a large school full of kids who he imagined would be bolder and tougher than him.
But once he started classes, he realized something: Everyone else was terrified, too.
“There were a lot of people who were unique in different ways,” he said. “I saw they were just like me. They were wondering if they’d fit in, who they’d make friends with.”
No one made fun of him in the halls, or in his classes. He discovered there were clubs for students from all kinds of different backgrounds, identities and tastes: a gay-straight alliance, a chess club, a Special Olympics team.
Even the school mascot is kind of nerdy: The Lawyers.
Slowly, Perez started opening up to others. He made friends, joined the Army ROTC program. When John Marshall transitioned to a campus of three small specialty high schools at the start of his sophomore year, he enrolled in the School of Engineering and found himself in small classes full of other kids interested in science and technology.
“My friends changed my attitude about high school — but also about myself,” he said, and smiled. “Now? I think I’m pretty smart and funny.”
Perez was one of six high school students who shared their stories during a panel at the West Side High School Fair, organized by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance in partnership with Bellaire-Puritas Development Corporation and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
The other students — representing New Tech West High School, Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) and the schools of Information Technology and Civic and Business Leadership at John Marshall — sounded themes similar to Perez’s.
High school is hard, but not as scary as you think. Actively choosing a school allows you to thrive both socially and academically, while side-stepping negative outside influences.
“I feel like I’m encouraged to think of myself as being able to achieve great things,” said Angellise Irizarry, from BHSEC. “I can go to poetry slams, or attend foreign language clubs, and from the beginning we’re all told we’re college material.”
She explained how Bard’s curriculum includes two years of accelerated high school followed by two years of on-campus college courses, ending with students receiving their associate’s degree from Bard College.
A parent’s hand shot up.
“Isn’t that too much work, condensing all that in four years?” he asked.
“It sounds like it would be, but it’s not because they give us plenty of time and free periods to finish our work,” she said.
Oscar Malavé from New Tech West shared how he appreciated his school’s mix of computer-based learning, one-on-one instruction from teachers, and diverse after-school programs.
“I’d heard there were music clubs — and I’ve always wanted to play an instrument,” he said. “So it felt like a calling.”
After the panel, families gathered for tours of the John Marshall campus, which opened in fall 2015, or to visit information booths representing other west side and downtown high schools.
Angela Yapp, who attended with her two sons, who are in 7th and 8th grade, said she was leaning toward one of the John Marshall schools for her younger son — but not for the older one.
“He’s more of a loner, a smaller-environment type of kid,” she said. “So we’ll see, but I think someplace smaller would be good for him.”
That’s exactly the kind of thinking the Transformation Alliance is trying to promote with its neighborhood school fairs, including three more being planned for late spring and early summer in other parts of the city, said Piet van Lier, Alliance executive director.
Editor's note: Nearly 200 Cleveland students and families came to the John Marshall event, including 88 6th, 7th and 8th graders from 25 district, charter and private schools in the city.
Learn more about our next school fair, the Old Brooklyn School Showcase, on May 17, 2017 at Estabrook Recreation Center. Fairs are also being planned for the Central and Collinwood neighborhoods.