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Families browse options, high schools make their pitches (Video and Photo gallery)




Students and families roamed from booth to booth at a CMSD fair on Tuesday night. But the search wasn't for carnival food or games -- they were after the high school that best fits their needs.

School choice is a cornerstone of The Cleveland Plan, a blueprint for education reform in the city. Students can enroll in any school they wish, if space is available and, in a handful of cases, they meet admissions criteria.

For families' convenience, the District's annual High School Choice Fair has taken to the road this year. Instead of one event held downtown at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center, families could pick from two. In addition to Tuesday's East Side version, a second will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday at Max S. Hayes High School on the West Side.

Tuesday evening's fair attracted families from both in and out of the District to gather information about CMSD's 30-plus high school options. Some schools vied for the attention of visiting families with displays or activities that represent their school's unique offerings -- a video game set up at the Cleveland High School for Digital Arts booth, a vibrant plant display by Washington Park Environmental Studies and even a photo booth offered by Lincoln-West School of Science and Health and its partner, MetroHealth.

Desiree McWilliams and her daughter Destiny took time to visit every school’s table at the former East High School's gym to make sure Destiny, who attends Dike School of the Arts, knew about all of her options. Destiny came prepared with a list of questions for each school, including what after-school activities they offer.

Her mother said she was pleased with the fair.

“Destiny got the chance to sit down and talk to different people and talk about her experience in school now and what she wants to go for career-wise,” she said.

Destiny is still weighing her options but said she was impressed with what she heard about the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at the John Hay Campus.

The fair was also a chance for students outside the District to get to know CMSD. This was the case for Nicole, an eighth-grader at a local charter school who came with her guidance counselor.

Nicole said she is leaning toward the Cleveland School of the Arts or one of three small schools at the John Marshall Campus.

“I love to do law, business -- all that type of stuff,” she said. “They gave me some great tips about what their school was like and how everything runs.”

More than anything else, the choice fair made Nicole feel excited about the milestone of attending high school, an accomplishment she wasn’t sure she would reach.

“I always doubted myself when I was little,” she said. “But I made it, and now I’m about to go to high school and it’s like, ‘Wow, I did it.’ ”

From Tuesday through Thursday this week, the District's 2,400 eighth-graders were to visit the East Professional Center during the day so they could talk to representatives and see what the schools have to offer. Students crowded around booths before making and ranking their selections.

Teacher Cecilia Robinson accompanied eighth-graders from East Clark School and said they took to the aisles in the gym as if they were at a popular festival.

"I see the excitement in their eyes," she said. "They come running back to me like 2-year-olds, 'Ms. Robinson, Ms. Robinson.' That's what I want to see."

One of the East Clark students, Jamavian, was intrigued by Bard High School Early College East Campus, because he could earn both a high school diploma and college associate's degree in four years. JFK PACT (Problem-based Academy of Critical Thinking) also caught his eye, because of the emphasis the school places on technology.

Mentors from the True2U program meet monthly with CMSD eighth-graders to discuss college and career planning, including the decision of where to attend high school. Jamavian is keeping their words in mind as he heads toward the future.

"They help us choose the right path. They give great advice," said Jamavian, who is considering becoming a teacher. "They said choose the job that you actually love to do, choose the career path that suits you best."

For the best chance of getting their first choice, families should enroll online at The portal closes March 9, with a lottery held March 16 if demand for a school exceeds the number of available seats.

Watch the CMSD-TV video for more coverage of the 2018 school choice fair. 

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