Dicy McCullough: Cleveland students take stage as year ends

  • Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 7:15 p.m.

Another school year has come and gone, with students at Cleveland Elementary School left to enjoy fond memories of fun times including field day, swimming and award assemblies. Built in 1927, Cleveland is one of the few elementary schools that still has an auditorium used for assemblies and programs.

Before retiring in 2006, I taught music in that same auditorium and feel fortunate I had the opportunity to return this spring, finishing the year out for retiring music teacher, Dr. William D. Robertson, otherwise known as, Dr. Rob.


Throughout the years, many PTA programs have been presented on that stage with children dressing up in costumes, singing solos, playing instruments and dancing to “pop tunes.” It’s amazing how children light up when they are the center of attention, even for a moment. Although they forget other things, they never forget their performances. Past students often share with me how much they enjoyed being on stage, remembering songs that were sung and what part they played.

Becky Kepley-Lee, principal of Cleveland Elementary School, understands the importance of not only performance, but also recognition of achievement in a child’s life. She believes these elements are part of the overall educational experience, giving children opportunities to shine not only for academics, but also for accomplishments in areas such as citizenship, books read, music, art and science.

This year it was necessary to have two end of the year award assemblies, with kindergarten-fourth on one day and fifth on the next. Students had a special treat when retired teacher, Dr. Lane Graham, came for both days to present his karate students with their belts. Before retiring two years ago, Lane taught karate at Cleveland during after school hours, with almost 100 students between the beginner and intermediate classes. He said the program wouldn’t have been as successful without the assistance of two past students, Justin Davidson (4th degree black belt) and Dane Martin (3rd degree black belt).

Each year for the last PTA program, karate students in both beginner and intermediate classes would demonstrate what they learned, even breaking multiple boards. No matter how many times I saw the demonstrations, I was always amazed.

After retiring from the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Lane became an assistant professor at Pfeiffer University. Even with his busy schedule, he still finds time to drive to Cleveland twice a week to teach karate. Not only does he teach students how to break boards, but he also teaches discipline and self-control. I bet other schools wish they could clone Dr. Graham. Hopefully, he will continue this program because I have a very energetic 2-year-old grandson who will be starting kindergarten at Cleveland in a few years.

Walking on stage with a cane to make his presentations, Lane said, “Teaching karate doesn’t have anything to do with my physical ailment; it’s old age.” Having graduated with Lane at North Rowan, I understand the “old age” comment.

During the fifth-grade assembly, the Honors Chorus sang “America the Beautiful,” with Grace Hodge introducing the song by reading a tribute which Navy retiree and fifth-grade teacher, Bob Terry, had written. The tribute was in honor of all active duty military, veterans, first responders and those withstanding the natural disasters in our country this past year. After singing, Grace remained at the mike, which was a surprise to everyone. What she did next brought tears to those in the audience.

Grace suffers from cystic fibrosis (CF) and has difficulty breathing. Knowing she would be at the mike, she said, “While I’m up here, I’d like to say thank you to everyone at Cleveland Elementary School. These have been the best years. Thank you to the cafeteria ladies for letting me salt my vegetables. Thank you to Mrs. Joy Barnett (secretary) for giving me medicine every day. Thank you to Ms. Kepley-Lee for letting me use her office to do my treatments and a large thank you to Mr. Terry and my classmates for putting up with my occasional non-stop coughing. Having CF is not fun, but you made it a little more bearable. Thank you for taking care of me. I’ll never forget you. And remember, ‘Just breathe.’ ”

It’s understandable why Grace was the recipient of the 2013 Karate Spirit Award presented by Dr. Graham.

Mr. Terry said, “I never cry at assemblies, but I just about did today.”

Parents, students and guests later enjoyed seeing baby pictures of the fifth grade students shown on the new projector screen made possible through fundraisers sponsored by the PTA. Music, laughter and a few sniffles in the background added to the atmosphere. PTA officers were especially happy the new technology was in place for the end of the year events and are equally excited about possibilities for the future.

Afterwards, students were treated to a reception in the lunchroom, where I talked with Laura Hodge, Grace’s mom. As a parent, Laura appreciates that Cleveland uses the auditorium by giving students the opportunity to perform and be recognized for achievements throughout the year.

“There’s just something special about walking across a stage in front of an audience that seems to help with self-esteem,” she said.

Laura also appreciates the atmosphere in the school because it feels like one of family where everyone is loved and accepted. She believes that begins at the front door with administration.

While it’s true we’re living in changing times with unbelievable technology, some things never change. One of those, of course, is that children need love, but another as evidenced the last week at Cleveland is that children also enjoy being in the spotlight. If you don’t believe me, the next time you see a child on stage, watch their eyes light up. Don’t worry, I promise not to say, “I told you so.”

Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.

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