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felicity picThis year is a bittersweet one for our family. My daughter, Eve, who has attended City Neighbors Hamilton since kindergarten has finally reached eighth grade, and the time we have at CNH is rapidly coming to a close. On the one hand, she is so ready to move on to high school, but as graduation approaches, many of our conversations circle back to a memory of the last nine years at CNH.

I remember her dancing on the outdoor stage with her principal on her very first day — already feeling safe and welcomed and fearless. By the end of the year, one of her classmates drew a now highly treasured collage of the many moods of Eve, proving she was understood by teachers and friends. I remember watching her class perform a song in first grade, which Eve chose to meow instead of sing the lyrics, and the parents of her classmates turning to smile at us, delighted by her even as I wanted to crawl under my seat. Hard conversations about her grades or behavior with teachers always ended with reassurance that she would be supported as she muddled through whatever issues she was grappling with. I’ve had teachers stop me to share her artwork, to talk about her valued input in class, to celebrate her emerging sense of who she is and where she wants to go.

The support we’ve received at CNH has been remarkable. That motto, “Known. Loved. Inspired.,” is day-to-day living, not just a pretty slogan for a t-shirt. Teachers across the school know her, not just the ones she has that year. I remember walking into an office and meeting a new teacher who asked me who my child was, not because he didn’t know her, but because he found our resemblance to each other uncanny and he wanted to make sure his instincts about who my child was were correct. And he wasn’t even her classroom teacher at the time, but a teacher who had already invested that much work into Eve and her classmates.

This year, my daughter’s class went to Puerto Rico and my husband had the good fortune to go with them. He talked as much about the teachers who were on the trip as he did about Puerto Rico itself. He was blown away by their patience and empathy. Before the trip, my husband was concerned about shepherding 17 teenagers so far away, but those concerns disappeared once he saw the CNH teachers in action.

In June my daughter will put on a pretty new dress, and walk across a stage to receive her “warm diploma”. As a former board president, I have been lucky enough to see all four graduation ceremonies CNH has had, so I know what is coming. Every student is congratulated by a favorite teacher not for finishing the work needed to earn a diploma, but for the growth they’ve shown as a person. Students are recognized for who they are, and who they strive to be, and it is a beautiful and touching ceremony.

For many of us, it will be the last time that our children will be together after so many years as classmates, friends, and family. Many of them, my daughter included, will be transitioning to City Neighbors High School, which will be familiar and yet not the same. And we will make new friends with classmates, teachers, and parents, even while cherishing the memories and friendships we have made for the last nine years.

My daughter is ready for new beginnings. I hope I am as ready for them as she is.

~Felicity Knox, Parent & Former Board President, City Neighbors Hamilton~

stephanie bio pic1When I was asked to contribute to this blog as one voice in the rotation, I was challenged.  My roles at City Neighbors are varied—but none of them include teaching. Nor am I a parent of a City Neighbors student.  What of value could I possibly have to say?

I could relate stories of interactions I’ve had with children during my ten years with City Neighbors.  Like the kindergartner who was having a bad day.  I sat beside him and talked about what it felt like to have a bad day.  He listened to me with rapt attention, his gaze never wandering from my face.  We were bonding. I stopped talking to allow him space to respond.  And he responded, alright.  “What is THAT?” he asked, poking his little finger against the mole just to the left of my nose.   He hadn’t been clinging to every wise word.  Instead, he had been staring at that mole as if it was a third eye.  That young man received an education that day on “beauty marks.”

Or I could tell you about the first grader who, also having a bad day, repeatedly screamed “Poopyhead!” at the top of her lungs as if it was the vilest obscenity ever uttered, we adults having to bite our lips and turn our heads.  If you sense a pattern here, it’s because when one works in a school office, she often encounters students who are having bad days.

I could tell you those stories.  In fact, I have.  But those aren’t what makes City Neighbors unique. Beyond bad days and beauty marks, it’s the learning that makes City Neighbors.

As I mentioned, I am not the parent of a City Neighbors student or alum.  When City Neighbors Charter School—our founding school–opened its doors in 2003, my son was already 17-years old, his own educational struggles mostly behind him after his father and I took a risk and enrolled him a progressive private school in fourth grade. His five years there restored an authentic love of learning that had been eroded by a more traditional education in a parochial school.  His experience is not an indictment against traditional or parochial schools.  We all know children who survive and some who even thrive in those environments, me being one of them.  My quiet, introspective kid, however, wasn’t.

Had City Neighbors been an option then, we would have leaped at the opportunity because, although I am not an educator, I know learning when I see it—or hear it or smell it or taste it or touch it.  It doesn’t necessarily look like children sitting behind desks in neat rows.  It often sounds loud and looks messy.  It bustles.  It thrums.  It chooses authentic, meaningful experiences over rote, dusty facts that a basic Google search can provide.  It does whatever it takes to capture a child’s heart and mind.

It doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen at City Neighbors.  We sometimes have G-rated scatological epithets hurled at us by frustrated five-year-olds and our imperfections are sometimes literally pointed out by little fingers poking at us.  But I know what learning looks like.  Just like that beauty mark, I see it.  Every day.

~Stephanie King, Business Manager, City Neighbors Foundation & Office Administrator, City Neighbors Hamilton~

gwendolynSocial media and news can be discouraging, leaving us feeling disenfranchised about the state of our communities and our children’s educational future.  However, there are twice as many powerful and uplifting stories that go untold. There are those who wake up every morning with hope, purpose, and passion to positively impact our children, our schools, our community, and our world.  There are parents, administrators, teachers, staff, cafeteria workers, grandparents, maintenance persons, guardians, students, daycare providers, bus drivers, babysitters, and countless more who care and are making a difference– every day.  Sometimes their stories are overlooked and they are unsung heroes.  Every story matters.

We will never be able to do everything to make our society perfect.  However, we do have a powerful sphere of influence and we should use it impactfully with inspiration for good.  No matter how small or great your contributions, they really do matter, so for that I say thank you!

~Gwendolyn Unoku, Progressive Ed Summit Coordinator & CN Parent


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