Gary Sardon Jr.
St. Martin de Porres High School
As a Shaker Heights High School graduate, Gary Sardon Jr. participated in the first City Year Cleveland class in 1996-97. After a year of City Year service in the classroom, he eventually received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Boston College and a master's degree in educational leadership from Loyola University in Maryland. "I was probably too young to appreciate it," he says, "but if I hadn't done City Year, this whole course I'm on probably wouldn't have happened." He taught English in Colombia for the past 2 1/2 years before returning home as the principal of St. Martin de Porres High School.
The class that stood out to me the most was music. I played the cello. I wasn't the best, but I enjoyed it.
When I proposed to my wife, I played something poorly for her, "These Arms of Mine" by Otis Redding. I tried to sing at the same time. It didn't go well.
I wasn't born Catholic.
I actually converted in 2003 in Baltimore. I didn't know much about the Jesuit way. Boston College was the first time I had that exposure. The focus on social justice was who I was, and I couldn't deny that.
One of the goals of this school and this program is to level the playing field. We want to see opportunities where there are none.
When I had the opportunity to visit the spirit and sense of family was pervasive. It really drew me in.
City Year was the first time I was in a classroom. I was 18, and I was scared to death.
I was asking questions and there was absolute silence. Finally, one student answered, and then he answered another question, and he engaged the other students.
Afterward, I did the debriefing with the teacher, and she told me about this student. He had some issues at home with some family members in jail and involved with drugs. He just opened himself up to me, and it opened my eyes. I was there to serve them, and he ended up serving me.
I wanted to be a doctor that's why I got a degree in chemistry. But I did a summer program at Case Western Reserve University, and I discovered I didn't like hospitals or sick people.
I still love chemistry I love the challenge.
Communication by far, is the most important thing in a relationship. All the lovey-dovey stuff is nice, but do not get married unless you have made an effort to develop your communication skills.
Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School
Babe Kwasniak has some stamps on his basketball passport. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he traveled the world as head coach of Armed Forces Basketball. But when offered the chance to coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, where he'd played for his father, Tedd, the decision was easy. With his father now as an assistant and his brother TJ coaching the junior varsity team, Kwasniak has led the Vikings to two straight state finals appearances.
You're dealing with kids that are in a very important part of their lives. We're just trying to give them someone to venerate and emulate.
At this stage in life they're supposed to make mistakes. And then you're supposed to teach them what they did wrong and why they did it wrong. This is the time where you have to correct the behavior you don't want, and you have to log the behavior that you do want.
I wasn't a guy who played with G.I. Joe growing up. It was the complete opposite. I was like, Oh my gosh, West Point, what is this?
Now I look back, and everything I do — including how I coach my team — has West Point imprints on it. The lessons I learned, the friends I made were much more powerful than anything that had to do with throwing a ball through a hoop.
We try not to have rules. We try to have standards, because standards are much more powerful.
We live by those West Point values. You can make mistakes in high school, but lying, cheating and stealing ... you don't get many more chances when it comes to those things.
I can recall coming home from a peewee football game in the seventh grade, when I didn't even weigh 100 pounds. I came home to tell my dad, "I'm done" I was so proud [of my decision] that night, and I turned and I told my dad: "I decided I'm not playing football anymore." And my dad said, "Well, that's fine, Babe. Where do you plan on sleeping tonight?" I learned a long time ago that quitting was not acceptable if you're a Kwasniak.
I'm in four years we've had two kids go Division I. They've both stayed there. I think when they're done playing with me, they know they can get yelled at. They know how to be coached.
This past year, we beat St. Ignatius. They've got more kids in their band class than we've got in our school!
We beat them for the first time in 17 years. There was a fan who's been coming to St. Joe's games since Clark Kellogg played, and he came up to me after the game and said, "I never thought we'd be able to compete with a school that size again."
A couple years ago, [the school] could have laid down and said, "OK, this is it, shut the doors." But we did the opposite. We said, "We've got nowhere to go but up, so let's go up."
Trinity High School
A theology instructor, director of service learning, and assistant track and field coach at Trinity High School, Kimberly Hogan was chosen to study at the Vatican this summer as part of a St. John's University master's program cohort. With a passion for social justice issues such as human trafficking, Hogan's efforts with the Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution project garnered her a 2014 Ohio Liberator Award
I'm there at the Vatican, and I'm on a mission.
The night before the general audience, I planned it out: Where would the pope slow down? My cohort friends and I figured out it would probably be at a corner because of the popemobile. You don't want the pope to tip over, right?
He comes around the corner and I yelled, "Papa Francesco! Papa Francesco!
He looked me dead in the eye and blessed me. He put his hand out to mine and I thought, Wow, you are an amazing person with such a loving presence.
Some of my cohort members in Italy came from Ghana, Uganda, India and Colombia. They deal with violence and poverty on a daily basis. A lot of Americans don't see that.
American society is living in a culture of indifference. We are founded on freedom, but we need to understand what it means to be free.
I'm on Twitter and Instagram. That's how people connect a lot now.
But the bullying and nastiness is so easy to put out there. So the Trinity ministry team decided to establish a hashtag, #thstweetslove, and promote it with T-shirts, stickers and buttons.
We tweet out love to the world instead of hatred.
Last fall, I was showing a video about human trafficking to one of my classes. I'm very passionate about this issue, so I said, "It is so important that we watch this and understand it. Please don't fall asleep." Five minutes into the movie, this kid falls asleep.
I had to go where the spirit led me.
I turned off this movie and really got into it: "I want you to find your passion. God did not create you to just sit and do nothing!" I was standing on a chair. I went on like that to the end of class. Oh my gosh, it was something.
During my first year at trinity, this one senior had been struggling in her faith. She hadn't really been open to what we were covering in class. One day, I was discussing going outside of ourselves and doing good in the world. She started crying in the back of the classroom. She approached me later and said, "Miss Hogan, I want to have a faith as strong as yours. You come into class every day, and you have this loving, passionate presence. You love Jesus and you're not afraid to say it. I want that."
That's when I knew this is where I'm supposed to be. I need to be with these kids on a daily basis. And it's not me, it's God working through me.
Open Door Christian Schools
After 12 years at Open Door Christian Schools, Bruce Neubauer knows a thing or two about kids and what makes them shine. In fact, Neubauer has found ways to connect with students of all ages — teaching art to kindergartners through fifth-graders and religion to high school seniors.
One of the big lessons with elementary kids is teaching them to make that pencil create what their brain sees. You put a still life in front of them and say, "Don't draw what you think is there. Just draw the lines and shapes you're seeing. I don't care what it looks like. You're going to have your own interpretation of it. Just go for it."
Art makes kids observant.
You can be in one of my classes and say you don't believe in God. I'm totally fine with that. Very little throws me off. I want to engage with it, of course, but it's always done in a respectful way.
I will always tell my kids, "If you want to disagree, please do. But we're going to do it with dialogue." We're not going to debate. "Debate" implies there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. "Dialogue" means I have to listen to you.
A few years ago, there was a student who came from a really tough background. No adult in his life was affirming the good in him. We really made an effort to help this kid get a foothold. He started getting pretty decent grades. He was so pleased, feeling like he might be on his way to college.
Unfortunately, we just were not able to overcome the negativity of the home environment. I think he just succumbed to the weight of it. He ended up pulling out, and we lost him. To this day, it's a big disappointment.
Next time, I'm going to do everything I can to be physically eye-to-eye with the parents. That's what I should have done. I could see things start to go south. I should have gone to the home.
Kindergarteners can be very focused and mature one moment, and the next moment they can be totally off the ranch going in their own direction. Seniors are exactly the same way. One minute you've got them. Then they totally veer off. Seniors and kindergartners are identical in many ways.
I spend a unit with the senior class discussing their plans. These kids are getting ready to launch into their lives, head off to college. I try to help them see how God has wired them.
I tell them, "God is already telling you what to do with your life by way of your passions and desires. Those are God's calling cards. Don't ignore them. You are free to go out and do whatever you want to do, just always be honest and have integrity. Do it the way Jesus would."
Parma Heights Christian Academy
It's all elementary to Marilynn Rupp. The fourth-grade teacher began her career in 1979 with the opening of Parma Heights Christian Academy. After teaching third grade for six years, she took time off to raise her daughter, but returned to the school 20 years ago and has been there since. Rupp continues her legacy this fall as some of her former students continue theirs — this year she'll teach the son of one of her very first students.
In 2000-01, we were a Blue Ribbon School.
We wanted to make sure that it was really top-notch, and that it made people want to come to our school and say, "Look at what they're doing with the students."
The fourth-graders are what the fifth-graders used to be, because the kids are growing up faster.
The world has shrunk. We have access to so many things because of the Internet. It does change how you view life.
I teach Ohio history. I'm not from Ohio, and I didn't know anything about Ohio. So I have made it a point to go out and travel Ohio so I can see what it's like, go to those places, understand the history from a different perspective than the people who are there, and then bring that back to the class.
I try to get the parents excited about it, too. Most of the time, what's closest to you people ignore.
When I became a parent, it helped me to understand the parents much better.
As I've aged, I am less worried about what people think of me.
I have come to peace as to who I am and what my purpose here on Earth is, and I'm going to do it.