Everyday Heroes: How Cincinnati Public School Teachers Prepare Students for Success

From kindergarten to high school, students in Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) have heroes among them. These heroes may not wear a cape, but to their students they are super, teaching and inspiring young scholars to fulfill their potential.

From providing school supplies and lunches to those in need to literally walking a former student down the aisle, these teachers are teachers for life. Their classrooms know no boundaries and their job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kindergartners who begin their academic career with Cheryl Abney-Green, a kindergarten teacher at Evanston Academy, are in luck. Ms. Abney-Green was born to be a teacher. She says it’s in her DNA. “I was born to do it and I love every second of it,” she says. “Both my parents were teachers, my aunts and uncles were teachers and university professors, and I have an uncle who was a superintendent in a Maryland school district. I started out as a sixth grade teacher. Then I started teaching first-grade, which was a drastic step, but my mother was a first grade teacher and I saw the importance of giving students the foundation they need. They needed the building blocks to succeed in the upper grades and I was the one who could give it to them. I truly, truly love my children.”

She teaches phonics with songs, as well as comprehension, and thinks if “you’re able to read, you’re able to do anything.”

Her passion shines in every word she speaks, and it’s clear her students love her as much as she loves them. “They come back,” Abney-Green says with delight. “I have students who are now in their 20s and sending their children to kindergarten. I remember teaching fourth grade years ago, when it was more common for students to leave school at 16, and it was devastating to me, and promising them that, ‘if you make it to senior year and graduate, I will attend each and every graduation.’ I made that commitment and I kept it. It meant so much to them, but it meant even more to me. I gave them my phone number and said, ‘anytime you need me, you call me. If you don’t understand something or you just need somebody to listen to you, you call me.’ And they did.”

She estimates she and her husband attended at least 10 to 15 graduations.

First-grade teacher Laura Marsh says Abney Green “has been the most instrumental person in my career at Evanston. The activities she plans in her classroom go beyond the things the students are expected to know, but they are so excited about what they are doing that they still get the full meaning out of it. She goes the extra mile for her students, whether it’s challenging them academically or celebrating every holiday or every student’s birthday. You can tell she just loves kids from a different perspective than as a classroom teacher. Her students always come to first grade so prepared and have learned the structure from her classroom so behavior is always a little easier when Ms. Abney-Green has a hand in it, and they are academically very well prepared too.”

Abney-Green says that teaching is one of the greatest professions to be in. “To watch the growth of youth as they mature into young adults, become parents and they come back to talk to you and say that you ‘made an impact on my life and I thank you for that.’ I’m an emotional person and so I cry in a heartbeat. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

As important as it is to give students the right start to their grade-school curriculum, it is also crucial to give them the right start as they prepare to move on to college or a career.

Kraig Hoover, a social studies teacher at Withrow University High School does everything he can to invest in his students’ lives and help them achieve their personal best.

“I’ve taught every area of social studies,” says Hoover. “U.S. history, world history, economics, sociology, African American studies, comparative religions. What allows me to teach all those different courses is a genuine passion for what I am teaching and for those I am teaching to.”

He is lauded for incorporating technology into his classroom to engage his students in ways that interest them. “Mr. Hoover has seen the advantage of using technology in his classroom and engages students by using a Google blog where students can see articles, videos and even take surveys where he can immediately see what their level of understanding about a topic is so he can teach more effectively,” says Megan Safko-Preslin, the ITM training administrator for CPS.  

“He uses real-life situations that students will be moving toward, for example, financial aid for seniors, and gets them actively engaged in discussion because it directly affects them.”

Hoover says incorporating more technology in his classroom has reinvigorated him. “ The way I see my students’ eyes light up when we use technology in teaching is nothing short of amazing.”

He even has his own Twitter handle - @cpshooverap - where he follows breaking news in technology, education and the world. “Incorporating real news and events helps the students realize, what we are doing in school has a real world application and purpose. They see a value in what we’re doing because of it.”

Sometimes, he gets to hear his students teaching others about what they’ve learned in his class. “We were doing a section in sociology about comparative religion and just happened to be discussing the Muslim faith when the ISIS (Islamic State) news started to come to a head. There were all sorts of charts, graphs and videos we were able to examine as a class, and the students really understand it and discuss it amongst themselves. I feel like a fly on a wall when I’m walking down the hallway and hear students talk about things we’ve been discussing in class. They’ll be informing another student about something going on, not for your benefit, you just happened to be there. That’s really neat.”

No matter the technology, though, Hoover’s success comes chiefly for the care and consideration he shows for his students. He has two groceries lists: one for his family’s shopping and one for food to take into school for those in need. Whether it’s an arm across the shoulder or a direct motivational approach, saying, “I need you to push harder but realize I believe in you, others believe in you and you are capable of so much more,” he fosters mutual respect with his students.

Hoover has many stories of students who look to CPS educators as some of their life-long role models. He loves hearing from, staying in contact with and helping his students long after they’ve graduated.

“I have former students who are now working in the building,” he says. “I see students, former and current, going into Kroger or around town. Seeing their faces light up is pretty cool.”

One student asked Mr. Hoover to be there for a big moment in her life.

“I’ve got a student who graduated eight years ago and I walked her down the aisle,” says Hoover. “I mentored her. She was at Ohio State, went on to the Marines. She just married a great guy. Seeing her so happy was huge. It was everything that I work for.”

Hoover teaches even when he isn’t at work. If he sees students in need, he helps. If he sees students – and even graduates – making decisions they might later regret, he steps in and reminds the students of their potential.

He knows what the right decision can do for a person’s life. He made a great one when deciding to become a teacher. He says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”