The seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at St. Francis School in Cleveland knows learning happens beyond the classroom. He also serves as director of The Club of Distinguished Gentlemen and the Social Justice Club.
Interview by Jennifer Keirn
This is my seventh year at St. Francis and my second year teaching middle school. I'm back for more torture.
Actually, it's not torture. It's awesome. The kids are at a very vital crossroads, especially in the city, of what identity am I going to embrace? Am I going to make something of myself on this educational path, or am I going to go into the pressure of the streets?
Over 90 percent of our students are on free lunch. Our neighborhood is one of the more gang-infested neighborhoods, right across the street from Hough. Their parents send them here with the hope that they're going to step up in society.
Due to great benefactors and the voucher program, private school is available to all students in Cleveland, not just the privileged. Money will not hold you back from a great education if you live in Cleveland and desire a private education.
Most of our kids aren't Catholic. We always say, "We're not here because they're Catholic. We're here because we're Catholic."
In the Club of Distinguished Gentlemen, we talk about what is this thing we call manhood? Eventually it leads to the conclusion that being a man is just like being a good human — identifying your values and living them.
I built relationships with them. I've been to their houses. I go to church with them. I pray with them. I show up at their ballgames. If you don't have that relationship, it's just some white guy from the suburbs talking.
You tell a kid in the suburbs you care, it's "whatever, man." You tell a kid you care about them in the city, they latch on to you. They respond to you. They reciprocate that love.
When I started the Social Justice Club, I said, "I'm going to be taking these kids to a homeless shelter." It's part of our mission, it's part of our outreach, and my principal said, "I'm going to find a way to say yes to that."
I want them to see there's always someone who's worse off and better off than you. If you've been hurt, and you've grown up with hurt, you're more compassionate to those who are hurting.
When you first start, you may think in a self-righteous way, How good am I for going in and helping these students? You're not good because you're here. You're only good if you show them success.