All posts by Carmen Lawrence-Billé

International Jazz Cooperation Day in Cincinnati

All photos taken by Melissa Kyrlach.

On Saturday, May 6, 2023, the Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts came alive with the soulful melodies of jazz, as the Cincinnati Public Schools International Jazz Festival, presented by Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC), unfolded its magical celebration of music, friendship, and cultural exchange. Bringing together 110 talented students from Cincinnati Public Schools and eight budding musicians from Barcelona’s Sant Andreu Jazz Band, this year’s festival was a testament to the power of jazz in uniting hearts across continents. These students from Barcelona were accompanied by acclaimed jazz musician and educator, Joan Chamorro.

The festival commenced with a bustling series of workshops and jam sessions led by seasoned jazz musicians. These workshops provided the students with invaluable opportunities to refine their musical talents in a much smaller setting. Under the guidance of these professionals, the young artists delved into the intricacies of jazz improvisation, rhythm, and harmony, discovering new dimensions of their craft. 

As the sun began to set, the anticipation in the air was palpable as the students prepared to take the main stage of the Aronoff Center. Performing for an enraptured audience of approximately 600, the young musicians showcased their incredible skills, leaving the crowd in awe of their passion and dedication to jazz. The evening was a harmonious blend of individual performances and collaborative ensembles, where the universal language of music resonated with every beat.

A Global Artistic Collaboration

The festival not only showcased musical talents but also brought the world of visual art to the spotlight. ABC collaborated with the International Sister Cities Association to curate a soulful visual art installation in the Aronoff Center’s lobby. The exhibit featured remarkable artworks created by students from Cincinnati Public Schools, as well as their peers from China, Japan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. Through this creative exchange, the installation celebrated the theme of friendship and artistic cooperation, further enhancing the festival’s message of unity.

A Proclamation of International Jazz Cooperation

The significance of this festival reached new heights when the Mayoral Office of Cincinnati bestowed a proclamation, designating May 6, 2023, as “International Jazz Cooperation Day” in Cincinnati. This declaration served as a testament to the festival’s impact in fostering cultural understanding and international goodwill through the language of jazz. The proclamation was presented by Assistant Mayor Jan-Michele Kearney just as the evening performance began, setting the tone for an unforgettable night.

“I just want to offer my congratulations to [ABC and its partners], along with Dr. Isidor Rudnick, for your extraordinary services, energy and efforts in producing the 3rd Annual ABC/CPS International Jazz Festival,” shared ABC Board President, Dick Friedman. “The community buzz that evening and beyond has been wonderful, including wonderfully supportive comments onstage and offstage from CPS Board Chair, Ben Lindy and Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Kearny, along with Carolyn Jones, CPS Board member.”

The Cincinnati Public Schools International Jazz Festival 2023 was a true testament to the vision of CPS Fine Arts Director Dr. Isidore Rudnick, as well as an ode to the boundless potential of jazz music and friendship in uniting communities across the globe. Dr. Rudnick’s unwavering dedication to the talented students, coupled with his extensive connections in the jazz world, have transformed this program into an extraordinary event.

Through workshops, performances, and artistic collaborations, the young musicians from Cincinnati and Barcelona exemplified the power of jazz in fostering connections and friendships beyond borders. As the echoes of their melodious performances lingered in the air, they left a mark on the hearts of all who witnessed this extraordinary celebration of harmony and cooperation.

ABC’s Heather England is Named RC of the Year By Adopt A Class

Adopt A Class Executive Director, Sonya Fultz, presents Heather England with the award for the Resource Coordinator of the Year

We are thrilled to shine a spotlight on an exceptional individual who has made an incredible impact on the lives of students at Rockdale Academy. Heather England, ABC’s Resource Coordinator placed at Rockdale Academy, has been named Resource Coordinator of the Year by Adopt a Class. This prestigious recognition is not only a testament to Heather’s dedication and hard work but is also a momentous achievement for ABC, as it marks the second consecutive year that one of our Resource Coordinators has received this esteemed honor. Let us take a moment to celebrate Heather’s outstanding accomplishments and the positive influence she has had on her school community.

Heather’s unwavering commitment to the students and staff at Rockdale Elementary School as a resource coordinator has played a pivotal role in creating an inclusive and engaging environment for all. Heather goes above and beyond her job description, always seeking innovative ways to enhance the educational experience for students. “Ms. England is an exemplary Resource Coordinator,” commended Rockdale Academy Principal, Dr. Jaren Finney. “She is an effective communicator… always professional, dependable, and keeps all stakeholders connected while ensuring that tasks get completed with excellence!”

Whether it’s organizing after-school programs, coordinating field trips, or connecting families with vital community resources, Heather’s passion shines through in everything she does. Her tireless efforts have greatly contributed to Rockdale’s mission of creating an inclusive and safe environment as well as maintaining open and honest communication between the school and the community. 

Heather’s impact extends far beyond the walls of Rockdale Elementary School. Her dedication and unwavering commitment have served as a beacon of inspiration for her colleagues and the wider ABC community. She leads by example, demonstrating the immense value of resource coordination and the transformative power it holds in shaping young lives. “Heather has demonstrated an exceptional ability to hit the ground running and quickly establish herself as a valuable asset to the team,” reflected ABC’s Senior Manager of Resource Coordination, James Lacey (Heather’s manager). “Her swift integration into this role and her continued impact as a great leader is truly commendable. We are very proud of Heather’s commitment to this work and to serving her community.”

We believe that Heather and Cheri Jodan’s success in securing this coveted award for ABC two years in a row is a testament to the ABC’s reputation for excellence and dedication to student success. Heather’s achievements highlight the importance of resource coordination and its ability to bridge gaps, provide opportunities, and create a nurturing educational environment.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Heather for her remarkable achievement and commend her for her ongoing dedication to creating a nurturing and inclusive educational environment. Her exemplary work not only benefits Rockdale Elementary School but also sets an example for Resource Coordinators across the city and far beyond.

As we celebrate Heather’s success, we would also like to acknowledge all of our Resource Coordinators’ commitment to excellence and service. With talented individuals like Heather leading the way, we can confidently say that the future holds great promise for the students and communities served by ABC.

We look forward to witnessing Heather’s continued impact and the continued success of our Resource Coordinators in transforming the lives of students, one student at a time.

Adopt A Class Supports Cincinnati

Adopt A Class connects teams of volunteer mentors from local corporate organizations and civic groups with schools in the community. Through their group mentoring program, Adopt A Class exposes students to a breadth of life and career readiness experiences, enabling thousands to engage in enrichment activities they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience.

Adopt a Class is present in 36 schools across the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky region. With the help of over 160 partner organizations, it has reached 6,750 students in our communities. 

During the 2022-23 school year, Adopt A Class had 198 teams of 1,700 mentors serving over 4,350 students at Cincinnati Public Schools. Their amazing mentorship program reached over 45 classrooms of students across six CPS schools where ABC is the lead agency: Cheviot, Hartwell, Silverton, Woodford, Winton Hills, and of course, Rockdale Academy.

We’re so grateful to partner with this phenomenal organization, and grateful also that they recognize the tremendous value of our Resource Coordinators in high-need schools.

Play Ball! ABC Supports Field Opening in Avondale

At ABC, we appreciate the value of providing equitable access to enrichment opportunities for students in Cincinnati. We’ve honored that value by proudly supported the Reds Community Fund in its recent endeavor to refurbish a community field for diamond sports. The result is not just a transformed space for athletic activities, but a symbol of hope and inclusivity for the entire community.

We believe that all students should have access to enrichment opportunities, regardless of their socioeconomic background. “This refreshed field is essential to getting students from diverse communities together, to participate in baseball and softball and tee-ball, and experience all the joy and athleticism that comes with that,” explained ABC Executive Director Sally Grimes. “Pardon the pun, but we’re quite literally levelling the playing field!”

On June 17, 2023, ABC proudly attended the ribbon cutting for the new Cleveland Parker III field at the Avondale Recreation Center. We found ourselves in great company and were joined in celebration of the event by such luminaries as Mayor Aftab Pureval, Congressman Greg Landsman, and Cincinnati Reds COO & President Phil Castellini- and of course, Red’s mascot Mr. Red Legs himself.

The revitalization of the community field for diamond sports holds immense significance for both the Reds Community Fund and ABC. This project goes beyond mere infrastructure improvements; it represents a commitment to empowering youth and fostering community engagement. By providing a safe and accessible space for diamond sports, the field becomes a catalyst for personal growth, team building, and healthy lifestyles. Beyond the immediate benefits of physical activity, diamond sports cultivate important life skills such as discipline, teamwork, and perseverance. By supporting the Reds Community Fund in this initiative, ABC is actively working to bridge the gap in access to such opportunities and foster a sense of belonging among young individuals in Cincinnati.

As a testament to the collective efforts made by ABC, the Reds Community Fund has graciously commemorated our support on the scoreboard of the refurbished field. This acknowledgment serves as a reminder of the importance of collaboration and the positive impact that can be achieved when organizations come together for a common cause.

We were honored to have Executive Director Sally Grimes participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the field. Sally’s presence represented not only ABC’s commitment to the project, but also our dedication to fostering equitable access to enrichment opportunities beyond traditional educational settings. 

Thanks also to our Vice President of the Board, Charley Frank, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Reds Community Fund and is constantly on the lookout for ways ABC and the Reds Community Fund can collaborate to support the youth of this vibrant city. 

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.