Players’ prayers

By Sean Barron


Raymond Shaw is hoping his football team will gain plenty of yardage on the field, though what he and his teammates plan to accomplish this school year in the classroom reflects the hopes of many school officials, parents and others that the district will gain a lot of ground.

“I just want to come out and share with the city that I’m trying to make a change,” said the East High School senior, who also will play guard and defensive end. “We hope to develop and be young men and disciplined and realize life isn’t a game – that we should think before we act.”

Shaw’s ambitions also capture much of the essence of Sunday’s March 4 Hope rally, which began at Price Memorial AME Zion Church, 920 Dryden Ave., on the East Side, and ended at East High on Bennington Avenue. Following the rally was a two-hour prayer vigil and program at the school.

The march was a “prayer and encouragement event” focused on supporting students in the Youngstown City Schools while encouraging parents, guardians and others with a vested interest in the schools to be proactive in ensuring students’ moral stability as well as academic, attitudinal and athletic success, organizers said.

Today is the first day of classes in the district.

“There’s some great kids at East High School and some with a lot of potential,” said the Rev. Gary Frost, a member of Mercy Community Church on the West Side and an event coordinator.

The Rev. Mr. Frost, former pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church, echoed one of the gathering’s core themes, saying it’s crucial that teachers, parents and the community unite on behalf of the students.

Shaw’s primary goals for this school year also are to attend classes every day, maintain a high grade-point average and encourage his teammates to follow suit, he said.

Also intending to keep her GPA high is Devonna Culver, a 10th-grader who’s part of East High’s cheerleading squad.

To that end, Devonna may take advantage of after-school programs, she said, adding she also wants to be a positive example in the community.

Another key piece in turning the district around is having more meetings, emails and other correspondence between the schools and parents, noted Tamekia Merriwether, a first-year assistant basketball coach at East.

Merriwether came to the rally with her daughter, Lanay Merriwether, a Youngstown Early College junior. She also praised the efforts of Krish Mohip, the district’s new chief executive officer, calling him “a great asset for our parents and kids.”

Among those who took part in the 1-mile march from Price Memorial Church to East High were members of the school’s football, basketball, cheerleading and volleyball teams, along with many parents, teachers and ministers.

The program kicked off with prayers for students, parents, guardians and school personnel. The keynote speaker was James “Dru” Joyce, head boys basketball coach at Akron St. Vincent, St. Mary High School. Joyce also was Le-Bron James’ high-school basketball coach.

Turning things around in the district requires building “a winning culture” largely by having all interested parties work as a team with a clear-cut goal and vision, Joyce told his audience of a few hundred.

Joyce cited Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, noting that everyone must “star in their roles.” That means teachers and coaches should encourage students to never give up, parents need to recognize their children’s strengths and weaknesses and position them for success, and students should believe in themselves, he continued.

Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel mentioned a book he had read about “The Greatest Generation,” those who came together during World War II and placed their contributions to the country ahead of themselves. The generation before taught them such values; likewise, this generation of city students can be encouraged to reflect those attributes, he said.

Students inherently can and want to learn, so it’s up to the adults in their lives to help foster such an environment, Mohip said while praising the district’s teachers and principals, whom he called “world-class staff” who are committed to the students.

The CEO also reiterated his desire to see the community work together to fix the schools.

“There is no reason we won’t be the highest performing district in this country,” Mohip added.

East High Principal Denise Vaclav Danko said her school will be adding new dance, music, information-technology and science, technology, engineering and math programs this year. Along with them will be high expectations of the students, she said.

“Parents, we need your support. I will give 110 percent; I have great expectations for myself and my students,” Vaclav Danko added.

Providing the musical selections were Disciples of Praise, a vocal quartet, and Leslie Kitchen, a Martin Luther King Elementary School second-grade teacher.