CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a house, in a room, in a closet sits a little girl.
It’s the 1970s in inner city Cleveland. The home, as a whole, is modest. But for that little girl, the small, weathered, built-in desk tucked in the corner of her bedroom closet is enough for her imagination to create a world of possibilities.
Inside that private refuge, a young Mrs. Sharon Lenahan spends hours of her childhood playing make-believe. Unlike other girls, who may pretend to be a princess one day and a famous pop singer the next, there is only one game she has any interest in playing – school. And, unsurprisingly, she is always the teacher.
If she wants to become one someday, she knows she’ll need an education degree. But nobody in her family has graduated from college, and higher education isn’t discussed as an option for her, either.
She will eventually graduate high school, move out on her own and begin working at a nearby restaurant. But with each table she serves, the unrelenting call to be an educator will only grow.
So, she will rewrite her family’s playbook. Casting aside all preconceived ideas of what her life should look like, she will enroll in college and get her degree.
And one day, she will realize she doesn’t expect – or even accept – praise for becoming a first-generation college graduate. In her eyes, it wasn’t a choice she made. She was always meant to be a teacher.
And when she applies for a job, while her classmates court options at a number of schools, this girl will set her sights on one goal – to teach at CMSD, the district where she began her own education.
She will tell a reporter, one day, that her calling has always gone beyond academic instruction – that knowing, firsthand, the unique challenges of growing up within the city, prepared her to become an advocate for the students next in line to navigate that world. .
Thinking back on the last 20 years and counting, she’ll recall teaching each student who has passed through her room that a bright future is possible. Careers are out there. College is within reach. And if nobody else is going to discuss that with them, she will.
Those are the conversations, she will say, that she wished someone would have tried to have with her, long ago – when she was but a little girl, at a desk, in a closet, dreaming of the ways she would one day change the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In earlier stories of this series, cleveland.com referred to Mrs. Sharon Lenahan as Ms. Carol Smith to protect her identity, at her request. Mrs. Lenahan has now granted permission to use her real name.
For this innovative series called Cleveland’s Promise, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District gave two reporters unprecedented access to a classroom at Almira Elementary School to show readers the challenges of educating children in poverty and what the school district is doing to overcome them. Students’ names have been changed to protect their identity. Read more about this project here.