All posts by Carmen Lawrence-Billé

ABC Hosts Spring Invitational for Elementary Soccer Program

As the school year comes to a close, we at ABC think it is important to take time to celebrate the  goals and accomplishments of our young students. We also know the value of an all-day field trip, focusing on athletic skills, sportsmanship, and fun outside!

We are grateful for another successful year of our elementary athletics programs promoting teamwork, leadership, and physical health in our Cincinnati youth. That’s why we organized the end-of-school-year event for our elementary soccer program, the ABC Spring Soccer Invitational!

On Friday, May 5, 2023, over students in ABC’s Elementary Soccer program descended on Stargel Stadium in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood for a full-day of soccer related activities. Over 80 students represented 8 different CPS elementary schools were given the free opportunity to participate in this day-long event.

The invitational is the culminating event after our ABC Soccer program, in partnership with FC Cincinnati Community Foundation, wherein students get to participate in an afterschool soccer program in the spring and fall months, at no charge!

The ABC Soccer Invitational happens biennially, and it brings together elementary school students from all our participating schools for mini-games, skills clinics, and fun health oriented and team building activities. Each student also receives a free meal and nourishment throughout the day. 

The games are played in a fun and positive environment which emphasizes sportsmanship over, and every participant receives gifts to commemorate the experience at the close of the event. The ABC Soccer Invitational not only promotes physical activity but also encourages socializing and building community relationships among young athletes. 

We are incredibly grateful that we were able to participate in providing this opportunity to our elementary students in Cincinnati Public Schools. While this event presents a great opportunity for our youth to have fun outside, it is also a chance to learn and develop essential life skills such as teamwork, leadership, communication, and sportsmanship. The Spring Soccer Invitational goes beyond just physical activity and provides a platform for children to connect with others, build friendships, and learn to be part of a team.

We’d like to thank Anthem and TQL Foundation for sponsoring the ABC Soccer Invitational and all our participating students! And thanks most to our youth across the city that spent their out of school time having fun with us. We hope we see you again next year!

Behind the Wheel: ABC Launches Drivers Education Pilot Program

Photo credit: Scott's Driving Academy

Six new drivers are soon to hit the road, and it’s all thanks to a pilot program out of Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC). The program, launched in spring of 2023, aims to provide drivers education to students who could not otherwise afford it.

Drivers education is a critical life skill and an essential part of high school education, and it is necessary for students to learn to drive safely and responsibly. Learning to drive opens up many opportunities and grants a great many freedoms, such as more choices in work / professions, the flexibility to run errands, and the ability to travel to new places. Additionally, having a driver’s license can also provide independence and autonomy, which are critical for personal growth and development.

In addition to these practical benefits, learning to drive also has a significant impact on safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, with the number one cause of accidents being cited as driving inexperience. This statistic underscores the importance of providing drivers education for students to ensure that they learn to drive safely and responsibly. By providing students with the opportunity to learn to drive safely, we are creating a safer environment for all drivers on the road.

Photo credit: Scott's Driving Academy
Photo credit: Scott's Driving Academy

To enroll in the program, students at Aiken High School were asked to submit an essay (up to 500 words) demonstrating their need and desire for the program. From this pool of applicants, students were then selected based on their essay, proof of drivers permit (which needed to be attained independently), and by their school performance (including grades, attendance, and behavioral records such as recent detentions/suspensions). After acceptance into the program, students worked with ABC’s partner Scott’s Driving Academy to take classes online and schedule their in-person, behind-the-wheel lessons.

ABC extends our many thanks to Scott’s Driving Academy for making this program accessible for these students. Thanks also for the engagement and support of Kim Ronnebaum, Program Manager at Activities Beyond the Classroom; and Dana Bierman, ABC’s Resource Coordinator placed at Aiken High School. We are so proud and grateful for our tremendous staff, without whom tremendous programs like these would not be possible. ABC hopes to expand this program next school year, giving more students the freedom and autonomy that driving allows.

Western Hills Makes History With First Varsity Gymnastics Team at CPS

As the dust settles on the inaugural season of the Western Hills High School’s gymnastics team, it’s time to reflect on the impact it had on the school and its students. The launch of the gymnastics program was a significant milestone for the school, and its success exceeded all expectations.

The gymnastics team was the first of its kind in the district and provided an opportunity for students to explore their passion for gymnastics. The team comprised of talented individuals who were dedicated to the sport and committed to representing their school with pride.

The team’s success was a testament to the hard work and dedication of its members, as well as the coaching staff, led by head coach Victoria Oakley and assistant coach Kate Ryder. “Gymnastics is very different from other sports,” said Oakley. “It is a very tight knit community and we knew that we would be incredibly supported by the other teams in our district.”

Gymnastics as a sport has generally catered to predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods. WCPO recently reported on the founding of the first gymnastics team at a historically Black college/university (at Fisk University). The article references the low composition of Black gymnasts on teams (10%), yet the high composition of Black athletes on Olympic and NCAA teams. “While our girls are not quite going to be the next NCAA champions or even the next state qualifiers, it is incredibly important to us that they can see themselves represented in all facets of life,” shared Oakley. “We want them to become role models for the younger girls in the gym. These West High girls, like the Fisk Gymnasts, are doing something that has never been done before.”

Under their coaches’ guidance, the team developed their skills and gained valuable experience that will serve them well in the future. The impact of the sport went far beyond the mat; it brought the school community together, rallying around the team and supporting them every step of the way. It also provided an opportunity for students to develop important values such as discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.

The launch of the gymnastics team was a significant milestone for Western Hills High School, and its success has set a standard for future seasons and schools across the district. The team has laid the groundwork for future generations of gymnasts, inspiring them to pursue their passion for the sport and achieve their goals.

“We want to continue to expand our program,” Oakley shared about the future. “Most of our team this year consisted of freshmen this year, so we are truly excited to see what skills they can gain over the next few years. We would love to see other CPS schools offer gymnastics in their schools as well!”

Coaches Oakley and Ryder also requested support from the community through presence at meets. “If showing up is not possible, we would love for people to follow us on Instagram to watch our journey and spread the word about our team! These girls are incredibly resilient, hard working and brave- they deserve to feel supported and be recognized for their accomplishments.” 

Cincinnati Reds Community Fund Steps Up to the Plate

Baseball and softball season are fast approaching, and students are picking up their bats and dusting off their mitts for try outs. In Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), students can be especially grateful to a local powerhouse for stepping up to the plate to deliver equitable support for diamond sports districtwide.

Through Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC), the Reds Community Fund is providing financial support for diamond sports for grades 7-12 in Cincinnati Public Schools. For more than a decade, these donations have provided CPS athletic departments the opportunity to grow and improve upon their diamond sport programs.

“CPS Athletics and ABC have been great partners,” said Reds Community Fund Executive Director, Charley Frank. “Baseball and softball have struggled in the urban core compared to the suburbs, and it’s vital to keep the game relevant at the junior high and high school levels. We’re fortunate that we have two strategic allies that care about the game and want the best for the kids.”

Funds donated to schools are used for a variety of things like new jerseys, equipment, field maintenance, and more. “It’s through this support that [ABC is] able to meet our mission of providing more opportunities for kids to participate in athletics and other activities by increasing access and resources in a city with rich diamond sports history,” said Ricky Miller, Senior Manager of Athletics at ABC. Miller, who spent years at the bat and as a team manager, was elated at the support of the Reds Community Fund. “I’m very excited and optimistic about the direction of baseball and softball in our Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

Charley Frank (right) of the Reds Community Fund and Former Reds Pitcher Sal Romano speak to young baseball enthusiasts.

In addition, the Reds Community Fund is close to officially opening its brand new “Cleveland Parker Field” at the Blair Recreation Complex in Avondale, which will be accessible to CPS baseball and softball teams. The new field will have dugouts, a new scoreboard provided by ABC, and a new turf infield. “That turf field, for anyone who is unfamiliar, is a real luxury,” commented Carmen Lawrence-Bille, ABC Director of Advancement. “Turf fields are more resilient, which means they don’t rain out as easily and we’ll see fewer cancellations due to weather.” 

When asked about the value that the Reds Community Fund provides to CPS students and to Cincinnati at large, Josh Hardin, CPS Athletics Manager, commented, “this goes far beyond the game. The donations and resources that the Reds Community Fund provides mean more resources for our kids. More resources lead to more opportunities. More opportunities means more equity, and more collaboration across the district and nonprofits in Cincinnati. And really, isn’t that what we’re all here to do? To make Cincinnati a better place?”

“The Reds Community Fund is a spectacular partner for ABC and CPS,” Carmen continued. “We hope that their magnanimity and generosity serve as inspiration for other organizations to step up to the table in support of this amazing community.”

“The Reds Community Fund is a spectacular partner for ABC and CPS,” Carmen continued. “We hope that their magnanimity and generosity serve as inspiration for other organizations to step up to the table in support of this amazing community.”

ABC would like to share our warm thanks with the Reds Community Fund for its support of diamond sports for Cincinnati students. Thanks also to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission for supporting diamond sports through its spaces and fields across Cincinnati.

Soccer Successes: ABC Hosts 300+ Students During Invitational

On November 11, Activities Beyond the Classroom hosted a soccer invitational for the many students participating in its elementary programming. Of the approximately 500 students involved in the program, 327 students from 19 CPS elementary schools were able to leave their desks for the school day to engage in a full day of soccer activities.

Students spent the morning participating in soccer drills and scrimmages, team-based art work, participative sessions on proper stretching and nutrition, and walks around the World Famous TQL Stadium

Kate Solomon of FC Cincinnati, Shauna Murphy of Cincinnati Public Schools, Mary Wineberg of the CPS Board, and Sally Grimes of ABC. Each spoke to the audience, welcoming & encouraging the children as well as thanking supporters for making the event possible.

A special treat came for the students that day, as Cincinnati Public School board member Mary Wineberg, an Olympic gold medalist runner, made a special appearance. She kicked a few goals with students and briefly spoke, reminding them of the importance of teamwork and perseverance.

In the afternoon, students enjoyed a free lunch in TQL Stadium’s First Financial Club. As they departed for the day, each student was presented with a certificate, FC Cincinnati rally towel and soccer ball, TQL water bottle, and ABC backpack. All programming and rewards were free for students, and students that were unable to participate still received these gifts from ABC, FC Cincinnati Foundation, and TQL Foundation.

Thank You to Supporters of the Soccer Invitational

The day would not have been possible without the partnership of ABC, the FC Cincinnati Foundation, and Cincinnati Public Schools.

In addition, ABC sends our most sincere thanks to FC Cincinnati Foundation and TQL Foundation for sponsoring this event, as well as Old Spice and First Financial Foundation for sponsoring the program. Thank you for making this day possible for the students of Cincinnati!

International Jazz Returns to Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Public School (CPS) International Jazz Festival, hosted by Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC), will return to Cincinnati on May 6, 2023, at the Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts. Acclaimed jazz artist and educator Joan Chamorro will again take the main stage at this event, and this time he will be accompanied by not only Cincinnati students, but also eight of his Barcelona-based Sant Andreu Jazz Band students.

The students will be rejoining their peers from Cincinnati, after eleven of our own Cincinnati Jazz Academy students attended the Barcelona-based Jazzing Festival in September. There, international students performed and jammed together in similar master classes and workshops. The trip, sponsored by both ABC and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, was a first for most students out of the country; for many, it was also their first time leaving Cincinnati. “We could not have done this without ABC,” Dr. Isidore Rudnick, Fine Arts Curriculum Manager at CPS commented. “ABC makes things happen.”

At this year’s Jazz Festival, students from Barcelona and across Cincinnati alike will partake in workshops, jam sessions, and an evening performance with Joan Chamorro and other local and regional jazz musicians. All workshops will begin at 2:00 p.m. and will be completely free and open to the public, and will not require advance registration. The evening performance will start at 7:00 p.m. and will also be completely free and open to the public to attend. ABC will also partner with the International Sister Cities Association to bring a new visual art installation to the lobby of the Aronoff before the show. The installation will include pieces of art by children all over the world inspired by friendship.

The festival will be a celebration of both the Jazz Academy’s achievements and of the wide variety of arts programming brought to Cincinnati students by ABC. Reaching over 15,000 students every year, ABCs free programs include music, 2D and 3D visual art, dance, drama, and more. “It’s amazing what these students can do, when they are given the opportunities to explore artistic expression,” shared Sally Grimes, Executive Director at ABC.

ABC Welcomes New Members to the Board

Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) added two new members to their Board of Directors, expanding its reach into the Cincinnati arts and athletics communities. The new board members include Sydney Fine, Senior Director of Impact at ArtWorks, and Alexandra Simons, Director of Community Engagement at the Cincinnati Bengals. Both are long-time allies and friends of ABC who regularly collaborate on efforts to increase access to extracurricular activities for Cincinnati-area students.

As part of ABC’s strategic planning process, the organization conducted an analysis of the board. “We have an exceptional board, and we are always attentive to bringing new perspectives to the table representing all the programs we have across ABC,” shared Dick Friedman, President of ABC’s Board. “Sydney [Fine] will bring a wealth of knowledge about the Cincinnati arts scene, just as Alex [Simons] will on Cincinnati athletics. As we grow our arts programs and broaden our athletics initiatives, their perspectives will be critical.”

Sydney Fine

Senior Director of Impact, ArtWorks Cincinnati

Sydney Fine spent the beginnings of her career as a camp counselor and teacher with Teach for America before she pivoted to the youth development non-profit sector. Beyond education, her background includes fundraising and creating workforce development programming for teens and young adults. “Ensuring that youth have access to extra-curricular enrichment opportunities has been my number one passion for the past decade,” Fine shared. “I’m thrilled to be a part of an organization that does this so effectively and is committed to expanding access to the arts.”

Sydney serves at ArtWorks as Senior Director of Impact, where she leads the strategic direction, management, and evaluation of ArtWorks’ you and artist programs, public art outcomes, and community engagement initiatives. She also serves as a board member of ish, an organization exploring Jewish cultural traditions through the arts.

Alexandra Simons

Director of Community Engagement, Cincinnati Bengals

The 2022 NFL season marks Alex Simon’s 13th season with the Bengals. She spent her first five seasons responsible for Paycor Stadium’s 150+ private events. In 2015 she moved to the corporate partnerships team where her understanding of the business side of sports started to take shape. In 2018 she began leading the Bengals Community Engagement efforts.

Prior to joining the Bengals, Alex spent four years in marketing and communications. Alex is an integral supporter of ABC, helping with major projects including the AAA Pathway and the rebuilding of the South Avondale Elementary field. “The positive impact sports have on young people is invaluable and I am excited for the opportunity to help ABC continue its mission of ensuring young people have access to sports and extracurriculars that will equip them with key life skills that are the building blocks to success on and off the field,” Alex said.

Aiken High School Band Wins Downriver Showdown

We’re reminiscing back to warmer weather, and wanted to remind everyone of the triumphant success of Aiken High School at The Downriver Showdown in Ecorse, Michigan back in May, 2022! Over 7 high school marching bands from across the Midwest competed in Ecorse for bragging rights: which marching band would walk away number one?

Marching band isn’t for the feint of heart. It’s an incredibly physically trying art form that requires a fair amount of stamina and endurance- and it’s even more physically taxing if you participate in color guard or dance teams. Marching bands are a beautiful part of our United States cultural experience. This competition was for much more than bragging rights; it was a celebration of all things Americana and artistic.

The overnight band trip was an even greater opportunity for our students because it was a new adventure. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of our students, as most of them have not left the city of Cincinnati. Our students in the band thrive on competition and have a hunger to be the best. This opportunity inspired them to practice harder than they ever have. It taught them to hold themselves and each other accountable for their actions in and out of the band classroom,” shared Aiken Band Director, Steve Barton, Ed.D. “As we were performing and listening to the other bands, I saw a focus and sense of pride I have never seen before. In the end, not only did the Aiken High School Band have their best performance of the year, but they brought home first place!”


While the students adventured northward, they stayed at a hotel and visited Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, OH. However, the highlight of the trip was most certainly the competition. It was the greatest experience I ever had, I learned so much from all the bands,” shared Christian, one of the students. 

“What I learned from this trip is to be more locked in with what I want to do,” said Elyjah, another student. “It taught me that there will always be somebody better than you and that you can always improve, no matter where you go.”

Thank You To Woodward Trust

Special thanks to Woodward Trust for making this experience and this victory possible. Aiken’s Band Director specifically said, “I want to thank you so much for giving our students the opportunity to perform in their very first band competition. Given the pandemic, it was a much needed reward for them and their hard work,” said Barton.

Partners Unite to Celebrate Elementary Soccer at TQL Stadium

Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) is partnering with FC Cincinnati Foundation to host an invitational for its elementary soccer program, teaching children basic soccer skills, at Stargel and TQL Stadiums on November 10 from 10 am – 1 pm. Upwards of 350 elementary students from across the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) district will partake in the event, featuring master classes and skill clinics, scrimmages, and tours of the world famous TQL Stadium. The event will be one of the largest celebrations of elementary soccer the city has ever seen, involving partners such as Mercy Health, the University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University.

This event marks the second year of collaboration between ABC and FC Cincinnati. Soccer Unites, presented by Old Spice, is an FC Cincinnati Foundation program which brings soccer programming to youth who may not otherwise be exposed or have the opportunity to play the sport. ABC partners with FC Cincinnati Foundation to deliver this program in CPS elementary schools, eliminating remaining barriers to access. “The uniqueness of this collaboration is that it delivers everything directly to the students: the transportation, the uniforms, the cleats, all of it. We make it easy to play, because everyone deserves to learn the skills and joys of team play,” says Executive Director of ABC, Sally Grimes. The free event, sponsored by First Financial Foundation and TQL Foundation, will take place during the school day with transportation provided by ABC, and meals and gifts provided by FC Cincinnati Foundation.

“FC Cincinnati Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of children through soccer. We are proud to partner with Activities Beyond the Classroom to bring our Soccer Unites program to students across Cincinnati Public Schools,” said Kate Solomon, FC Cincinnati’s Vice President of Community Relations & Executive Director of FCC Foundation. “Today we celebrate all of the students participating in the program and their hard work and growth over the year.”

Barcelona Beats: ABC joins CPS students in Barcelona for jazz education

“Anything is possible, if the opportunity exists.”

From September 1-8, 2022, Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) partnered with the Kennedy Heights Arts Center and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) to take eleven students across the Atlantic to a jazz festival in Barcelona, Spain. 

In addition to several parent chaperones, the CPS Middle School Jazz Combo were accompanied on their trip by Dr. Isidore Rudnick, the Fine Arts Curiculum Manager and Director of the CPS Jazz Academy, as well as ABC’s Executive Director, Sally Grimes. “This is a tremendous, once in a lifetime experience for these students,” said Dr. Isidore Rudnick of the excursion.

The opportunity would never have been offered without the Jazz Festival, an annual event hosted by ABC to connect students across Cincinnati with local and international jazz artists, master classes and workshops, and performance opportunities on the main stage at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. In May 2022, the featured jazz artist was Joan Chamorro, internationally acclaimed jazz artist and educator. He enjoyed his time so thoroughly with our students that he invited them to participate in the 2022 edition of a prominent jazz festival in Barcelona, the Jazzing Festival de Sant Andreu.

With the generosity of a passionate arts supporter, eleven students (and many of their parents) were able to travel to Barcelona to play on an international stage, take classes with musicians from around the world, and experience an entirely different culture. Most of the students on the trip had never left the United States before, and most reported that their greatest anxieties lie around flying for the first time, being away from home, and making mistakes in foreign places. But they also shared their excitement to be learning new jazz skills from people very different from themselves, as well as seeing and experiencing a new culture for the first time. “I’m excited to learn about what it’s like to not be in the United States,” shared Carolina, a seventh grade percussionist from Walnut Hills.

CPS Middle School Jazz Combo Performance in Spain

Check out this video of the CPS Middle School Jazz Combo, featuring the opening song from their performance at the Jazzing Festival de Sant Andreu 2022 in Barcelona. ABC is so proud of what these students accomplished in Spain, and are pleased to share it with our audience.

Jazz Students Make Memories to Last a Lifetime

The students performed at the Jazzing Festival de Sant Andreu on Sunday, September 4th to a packed audience of jazz enthusiasts. The students also attended intimate workshops led by professional musicians throughout the weekend, gaining valuable insight to their craft. Throughout the weekend, the CPS students had the opportunity to socialize and perform with student musicians from Barcelona and the Canary Islands, forming new friendships that cross international boundaries.

The students packed their few days abroad full of amazing experiences. Evelyn, a seventh grade vibraphonist from Clark Montessori, shared her favorite parts of the trip were, “getting to see the view of [Barcelona], performing and practicing with new people, and most importantly being with my band mates.” In fact, many of the students proudly remarked about the bonding experience of doing new things with their peers. “I have a different relationship with everyone,” Tia, a sixth grade flautist from Parker Woods, shared, “I feel like everyone’s closer now.”

“I was only kind of friends with [my fellow Jazz Academy peers], but now I am really good friends with them,” shared a seventh grade saxophonist from Walnut Hills. “We are now going to hang out outside of [the Jazz Academy] too!”

While they certainly learned valuable skills in jazz musicianship and performance, they also shared how excited they were to learn about things completely separate from the jazz experience they’d come for. “I learned that I really enjoy flamenco dancing!” Carolina shared; Tia shared her piqued curiosity in architecture, particularly in La Segrada Familia Catedral; and Ben, a sixth grade trumpeter from Kilgour, learned that soccer is far more than a game in Europe. “Futbol is very important here.”

We at ABC are most proud of the social and emotional skills they honed in Barcelona. Students were reflective on their flight home and shared some of the deeper lessons this trip taught them. “I like adventure,” Jonas, a seventh grade trumpeter from Clark said. Ruby, a sixth grade clarinetist from Parker Woods, shared, “I love flying to new places and exploring their cultures.” Tia proudly shared, “I can be responsible without [the supervision of] my parents.” And finally, one student shared this profound thought: “With the right skills, anything is possible if the opportunity exists.”

ABC Supports Arts Enrichment

ABC is incredibly grateful for the partnership of Dr. Isidore Rudnick, the Fine Arts Curriculum Manager at Cincinnati Public Schools, and all that he contributed to this trip for the students. Dr. Rudnick’s international connections in the jazz world helped create this opportunity in Barcelona, and ABC is proud to have helped turn his vision into a reality. “Thank you to Dr. Rudnick for your incredible dedication to the students you serve,” said Sally Grimes, ABC Executive Director. “We are proud to partner with you on this trip, the International Jazz Festival, and future endeavors supporting musical education for students!”

Please click here to visit and subscribe to our YouTube page, where ABC will upload all of the videos we have obtained during this experience.  You can also click here to access our Facebook page, where our Executive Director kept a public travel diary of the experience as it was happening.

We are so proud to be able to provide opportunities like these to our students across Cincinnati. Do you want to support Cincinnati students having access to experiences like this in the future? Contact our Advancement Department to learn how you can make a difference in students’ lives today!