One of the familiar faces at Urban is Star Flak. Star is known by everyone–she shines like her namesake with her gregarious personality, diligent work, and active involvement.
But Star will be the first to tell you that it’s not just her that teachers and staff call by name—“Every one who works at Urban knows every student’s name and what makes us each unique.”
"The teachers here really know you," explains Star. And she understands how this helps her and her classmates learn. "Our teachers make sure that we get the extra help we need or they challenge us if the work gets too easy. They let you learn at your own pace because they know your individual style, but they also prepare you well for what's ahead."
Star recently took the entrance exam to her chosen high school, St. Joseph's Academy, and came away feeling confident. "All the questions on the exam were things we had already been learning at Urban, and that really helped me do well on the test."
Star loves coming to Urban each day, and sees it as another home where the children all care about each other. For instance, when Star was on student council, the group created a quilt with artwork and drawings to give to a student suffering from a chronic illness. Star also enjoys what she calls the "variety" of the student body. "There are so many types of kids here, and everyone comes from a different background," explains Star. "But even though we are all different, we still really like each other and learn so much from one another."
When asked how she feels when she walks through the doors each morning, Star simply said, "I know this is where I belong."
Alma Diaz and Kevin Johnson are two Urban Community School alums with bright futures and a unique place in Urban's history-they were part of the first class to graduate from Urban's new campus in 2006.
Alma recalls entering the building for the first time, being wowed by the colorful classrooms, and feeling special, “like I was going to be a celebrity for the rest of my life.” Today, they are both achieving new heights as sophomores at Baldwin Wallace College (BW). But they each still hold a place in their hearts for Urban. As Alma puts it, “We are one big family at Urban, and I always love coming back.”
Alma was born in Honduras, and came to Urban in the fifth grade, a time when she was still experiencing challenges with learning English. She describes herself as shy when she first came to Urban, but became comfortable with English by graduation. At Urban, Alma began a love of reading and especially writing that continues to this day. “Miss Michelle really encouraged me to write poetry and short stories, and she even kept reading and improving my work after I had gone on to high school. I still love to write creatively.”
Kevin also came to Urban in middle school, after encouraging his parents. His siblings were already Urban students, and Kevin heard them rave about their experiences. “I just wanted to do better in school and be part of the Urban family tradition and atmosphere,” Kevin said. After arriving at UCS, Kevin’s schoolwork improved, especially his reading and writing. He believes that without Urban, he would not have attended St. Ignatius or Baldwin Wallace. “It really made all the difference.”
Before both earning scholarships to BW, Kevin excelled at nearby St. Ignatius High School, while Alma continued her success at Cleveland Central Catholic. Alma now spends her days studying in BW’s business school, and Kevin is following in the steps of his Urban teachers by focusing on early childhood education. In his classes, Kevin often reflects back to the great teachers he had at Urban and the strong habits they helped him develop: “I think about Mr. Brock taking time with me after school and teaching me to go the extra mile. My college professors notice that I meet with them outside class, which I tell them I’ve been doing since eighth grade.”
Although they both are experiencing exciting new worlds—Kevin travels often as a star scholar-athlete on both the football and track squads and Alma is planning a semester abroad in China— these BW sophomores frequently look back on lessons learned at Urban to help them make the right decisions. Whether it was the “more peaceful” atmosphere, the camaraderie of Spirit Day, having a “buddy” to mentor, the “one-on-one attention from teachers,” or the unique diversity, Kevin and Alma know that Urban was something exceptional. Kevin even plans on passing on his Urban pride to the next generation: “When I have kids, I plan on picking them up from school at Urban, and telling them ‘Your dad was part of the first class to graduate from that building.’”
Spain, New York, Oregon—Alex Nosse and Renato Pereira-Castillo have lived all over. But when these young entrepreneurs were ready to start their own business, they chose to return to their roots—Cleveland, Ohio. The result is Joy Machines Bike Shop in the Ohio City neighborhood, a community-focused business that caters to anyone interested in making cycling part of his or her daily routine. And after opening just ten months ago, these two Urban Community School graduates are experiencing success in their business and are glad to be giving back to the area that gave so much to them.
Alex and Renato first met as students at Urban, with each arriving under decidedly different circumstances. Alex grew up on W. 45th as part of what one could call an All-Urban family—he was the second of three children who all attended Urban, and his mother also taught at the school during its inaugural year. Alex loved the social and academic aspects at Urban and “never woke up saying I didn’t want to go to school.” Renato immigrated to the United States at age six, not speaking a word of English. He still has a vivid memory of his first day recess, unable to understand another student inviting him to play tag. But Urban helped Renato bridge the gap, and he was soon the one inviting others to join him on the playground.
Though they took separate paths to Urban’s front door, Alex and Renato know that their classes, classmates, and teachers at Urban changed their lives. Alex explained how Urban “opened our minds up at an early age to what a lot of people don’t think about until college, if at all.” Both felt that Urban was a place that treated students as young adults rather than children. They were challenged with complex ideas in classrooms filled with teachers who value diversity in both people and ideas.
Both Renato and Alex developed a strong sense of community while attending Urban and then nearby St. Ignatius High School. This education led them to combine their love of bicycles with a desire to serve their community. With these lessons in mind, the idea for Joy Machines Bike Shop was born. When looking for retail space, Alex and Renato limited their search to “a 2 mile radius around West 25th street,” the only community they wanted to serve.
Joy Machines operates as a “community oriented startup bike shop” serving Cleveland’s near West side. For Alex and Renato, their shop hearkens back to “an older model of business that goes back to the idea of Main Street […] you have a connection to the people that you rely on.” For the owners of Joy Machines it is more than just a business relationship with their customers, Alex explains, “we feel a responsibility for them, their bikes, and their safety. How will our decisions affect the community and benefit the business and those that live around us.”
With the one-year anniversary of their opening coming up this summer, Alex and Renato’s business is thriving. Joy Machines recently made Cleveland Magazine’s “Best of Cleveland” list, and its owners are looking forward to making their Cleveland location home for years to come. By serving a “tight knit” group of cyclists from “all backgrounds,” Alex and Renato hope to encourage all bikers, be they young or old, recreational or competitive, commuter or weekend warrior, or whoever is willing to get out and experience the joy of riding. Their hope is to help cycling become an increasingly viable and even admirable form of transportation in Cleveland. Alex and Renato also encourage Urban students to stop in to the shop, and make a special effort to help them start a lifelong love of cycling. They realize that without the passionate teachers, lifelong friends, and spirit of community they enjoyed at Urban, Joy Machines may never have happened.