Many mistakes are always made ignorantly. At times, humans try to be too knowledgeable, rushing to come a conclusion before carefully analyzing the situation. One group of people who frequently fall victim to ignorance is the media. They attempt to jump to conclusions too quickly, and can have ninety percent of America believing something that is not true. An example would be the coverage of Pope John Paul II's last days. I can't even remember how many times the media reported that the Pope was dead before he actually was. The 2000 Presidential election was another foul-up for the media. First, they proclaimed Gore the winner, then no one, and then Bush. Not only did they leave a good deal of Americans scratching their heads, but they also gave fuel to a crisis that made the United States a laughing stock around the world. I digress, though; this essay is not entirely about my woes with the media. This has to do with things on a smaller scale: The Cleveland Heights Public School System, mainly my alma mater, Cleveland Heights-University Heights High School. It is a school that is frequent to harsh criticism; however, that criticism is, for some reason, directed more at the people who are trying to improve the system rather than to the people who make it look bad. I suppose I will never understand why it is human nature to blame people for crimes they never committed.
The problem dates back to the seventies, when Cleveland had its first occurrence of "White Flight." The decade of disco showed an immense increase in the black population of Cleveland and the surrounding suburb cities. When this happened, whether it was by sheer coincidence, sheer fear, sheer racism, or bits of all three, the white population declined rather quickly. Those who remained behind vowed to avoid the racism problems of America's past and carry on life as usual. For the next twenty years, the communities of Cleveland would struggle to respectfully integrate without conflicts. By the early 1990's, they would succeed greatly. Though Cleveland itself was still considered the "laughing-stock" of the United States, its suburban communities continued to flourish. Yet, to the eye of any outsider, one trouble spot stills remains: Cleveland Heights High School. Papers like The Sun Press and The Plain Dealer have continually bashed Heights from the early 90's all the way into the new millennium.
I will admit, my alma mater has had some problems in the past. Shootouts after night games with our rival, Shaker Heights, lead to the ending of Heights-Shaker night games. Back in 2001, Heights was the subject to a month of arson attacks, the last one burning up the East gym. While the students waited outside during that, they rioted a local Wendy's and threw snowballs at police cruisers. A year before that, a fire started by a Heights student burned up the vocal music room on the fourth floor. Over the next three years, nothing major would get Heights hit more, save a few false fire alarms. Then, junior year the Small School Initiative, a supposed school improvement program funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, gave a huge 42 million dollar grant to Heights, with the promise of improvement. However, the Board of Education stepped up the project by a year, and implemented it earlier than planned; my senior year. As can be expected, it had a great deal of problems. Class sizes were unbelievable, and all the hype around the project was based off of barely any success. The students were unhappy, and so were the teachers. Even worse, the students slowly started going back to being troublesome again. A senior and her boyfriend were shot and killed at the end of summer. Our freshmen class achieved a first quarter grade point average of .6. Besides that, one freshmen was raped in the below-ground tunnels, and fifty Heights students led a massive riot in a local CVS Pharmacy. The worst part of all was that all these bad things were appearing in the papers, letting the public in on all the details. University Heights is a city we share the high school with. However, many University Heights people are very rich, and can afford private schools, and do, with no regrets. They contribute to Heights-bashing as well. One man from University Heights who ran for a position on the board called Heights High School an "embarrassment," along with some other vicious comments. Instead of turning the other cheek, a group of Heights student egged the man's house two days later. Above all of this, the public has barely passed the last two levies, and came close to having a repeal option of the last levy on the spring ballot. So, all things considered, Heights High School hasn't been revered as the "best high school ever" by our public.
I am a proud graduate of Heights High School. Many people would say that I have "survived" the roller-coaster ride that is the Cleveland Heights Public School System. I do not like to think of it like that. To any outsider, Heights may seem like hell. Many parents-of-friends that I've talked to who live outside the district or put their kids through private schools have never hesitated to voice their opinions about my high school to me. Most of their fear comes from what the media tells them through the papers and sometimes on the evening news. If it's one thing I've learned at Heights, it's to never trust the media. I was both taught that by the teachers, and by experience.
I love Heights. It's a great place. I could not have a chosen a better school. Race is always an issue that is blown out of proportion by the press. Although I rarely see black and white sitting together at the same table at lunch, or walking and laughing with each other in the hallways, I know that both races highly respect each other. We may never look unified, but we are at heart. I have many black friends who I will forever be bonded to. There are many examples of unity at the high school that Cleveland Heights and University Heights could pay attention to. Things like sports programs and after-school clubs show consistent success of unity. The shining example of students respecting each other is the Vocal Music Department. In 2000, the Department was threatened by low membership. In came a new director, with a new idea, and a drive unlike any I've ever seen before. Over the next five years, and still going strong now, he would bring the Vocal Music Department out of the ashes and raise it to one of the top Departments in the state. But we achieved much more than that. We proved that black and white can do so much when we stand together as one. I am proud and overjoyed to know that I was a part of such a great unit of mature, respectable people, who only judged each other by the quality of our characters, and used that to try and teach our community a lesson by singing at news broadcasts and city hall meetings. The public loved us. Yet, despite the message of unity we send, Heights High School, with a body of 2000 students, is still judged as "bad" because the independent actions of fifty individuals. Again, I cannot understand why people do this. It's another shining example of why human nature can, at times, be a very unfair and dangerous thing. And I am personally tired of seeing good people ridiculed by the ignorance of others.