First Ring Schools Collaborative Prepares Students for Leadership Roles

For five Cuyahoga Heights High School (CHHS) sophomores, this year’s school experience has gone far beyond textbooks, technology, and test-taking. The quartet– Henry Clay, Ava Galek, Charles Lakus, Braylan McClardy, and Maecy Voytek – formed a team that joined with teams from  all of 16 school districts that “ring” the City of Cleveland to participate in the First Ring Student Leadership Institute (FRSLI). 

The FRSLI is an outgrowth of the First Ring Superintendents Collaborate which includes the superintendents from these districts. The institute was developed to teach high school sophomores the skills to become leaders of change in their schools and communities. Organized through the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio, Cleveland State University, and several other partners, this year’s participants participated in several work sessions in which they

  • Heard from dynamic speakers in professional sports, the sciences, finance, and education.
  • Developed skills to lead and inspire others
  • Shared their ideas and experiences with students from other First Ring districts. 

The focal point of this year’s academy was a social justice framework called Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) upon which the FRSLI is built.  This framework recognizes students as experts in their own experiences and emphasizes student-adult collaboration to bring about change. Using the knowledge they gleaned from this framework, the students identified and worked on an issue of importance in their school or community.

Members of the CHHS team felt the impact of COVID-19 and the accompanying academic stressors impacting them as a result. While they had access to the curriculum during remote and hybrid learning in the pandemic, opportunities for questions, enrichment, and overall support were reduced. The team conducted a survey and found that the majority of students in grades 6-12, as well as staff, also felt the impact. To support this, the team worked with Principal Mike Janatovich to research and create a solution to the question: “Would a Tutoring Program Benefit Our School?”

Using the knowledge they gained from their work sessions, the team set about collecting and analyzing data and collaborated with peers from other districts to identify possible solutions. In May, they joined with the other student teams to present their research findings and project outcomes for the First Ring superintendents and high schools principals at a Broadview Heights event center. 

“I feel the activity has widened my ability to think outside the box and come up with adaptive solutions that can be backed up by evidence,” said Voytek about her experiences with the FRSLI. “We’re addressing the possible learning gap among high school students that evidently exists.”  She added that she enjoyed interacting with students from other schools, especially when the CHHS team traveled to Columbus and none of the schools there knew about CHHS.

“The First Ring Student Leadership Institute helped me become a better leader because I became a lot more comfortable presenting in front of large groups and I realized that any change is possible,” said Galek.

Both Voytek and Galek said they enjoyed meeting and interacting with students from other schools and comparing and explaining their ideas and problems to them. “I look forward to continuing to put our tutoring program in place at our school,” added Galek. 

Next year, the students will continue their participation in the institute to further refine their leadership skills, to put their recommendations into action, and to mentor incoming sophomores. 

About the First Ring

The First Ring Schools Collaborative (FRSC) is an association of school districts within and surrounding the City of Cleveland, Ohio. The Collaborative was established in 2000 with the goal of helping school districts address the common challenges related to poverty, mobility, diversity, and the achievement gap. 

#1. Pictured left to right: Principal Mike Janatovich, ,Charles Lakus, Henry Clay, Maecy Voytek, Ava Galek,and Braylan McClardy. 

#2. Cuyahoga Heights students present their project at a meeting of the First Ring Students Leadership Institute with superintendents and principals from the First Ring districts.