by Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
This article is part of the Reaching Heights series “A Week In The Life at CH-UH Public Schools” exploring the realities of working in or attending the Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools. Through interviews and observations, author Krissy Dietrich Gallagher gathered information and describes each position and its rewards and challenges. Reaching Heights is a non-profit organization in Cleveland Heights, Ohio that works to increase awareness and appreciation of the CH-UH public schools.
“I feel like if the school is going to have all these things available to me, why not do them?”
That’s Idris Hakeem’s approach to every opportunity at Heights High, from extracurricular clubs to sports teams to coursework. He is truly doing it all: three Advanced Placement courses, two Honors courses, Minority Student Achievement Network, Science Olympiad, Robotics, AFS Club, Key Club, Link Crew, National Honor Society, AVID. Oh, and the baseball team. Oh, and he worked part-time at Dewey’s for more than a year.
“If it’s important to Idris,” said Melha Woods, his French teacher and AFS advisor, “there’s nothing stopping him.” Not even the normal constraints of the calendar or the clock.
“I have places to be every day after school,” said the junior who attended Fairfax, Boulevard, and Roxboro Middle before Heights High. He usually has club meetings, followed by studying, followed by baseball conditioning, which is year-round.
He even works through his lunch period, often in Madame Woods’ room. “Since I’m in my
room eating my lunch, I let them come,” she said of the 9th through 12th graders scattered about her room during their lunchtime. A few small groups are laughing and chatting, one boy is catching up on his rest, but Idris is sitting ramrod straight with his laptop open, studying. “Some just want to socialize,” explained his French teacher. “But Idris is always working.”
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“The hardest thing is finding the time,” he said of juggling sports, clubs, and a rigorous academic schedule. But somehow he does. Luckily baseball practices are in the evenings until the end of March so he’s able to attend club meetings after school before heading to the library or a friend’s house.
This particular week, he had a Science Olympiad meeting on Monday to prepare for their upcoming tournament. On Tuesday, the Link Leaders had a training session to learn the new activities they would share with their freshmen mentees the following week. Link Crew connects the freshmen class to junior and senior mentors, who help them navigate the world of high school.
Link Leaders serve as guides, engaging freshmen in meaningful conversation, dolling out advice, and being a friendly face in hallways that might feel overwhelming to new students. The games and ice breakers the Leaders were learning on this Tuesday all have underlying messages: Two partners trying to make a paper airplane without talking and each using only one hand highlighted the need for collaboration and good communication skills, plus recognizing personal limitations and thinking outside the box to overcome them.
“I definitely think we help,” said Idris of his role as a Link Leader, part of the Gear Up program for this year’s freshman class. “I wish I’d had that when I was a freshman.”
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What he did have was AVID, an elective that teaches students organizational and study skills, the importance of advocating for themselves in the classroom, and how to maximize college acceptance and attendance.
Idris enrolled in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) in 7th grade and has continued with the course every year since. “AVID helped me learn how to be a good student,” he said, laughing at his approach to schoolwork back in middle school. “It taught me how to prioritize, organize, and manage my time.”
It’s paying off. Idris was inducted into Heights High’s National Honor Society as a sophomore and tries to maintain a weighted GPA over 4.0.
“Idris is one of the hardest working students I know.”
Science teacher O’Dasha Blue had Idris in physical science as a freshman and now again in AP Chemistry. “Idris is one of the hardest working students I know,” she said. “He never backs down from a challenge, no matter how difficult. I absolutely love having him in class!”
He has had a challenge this year, in Ms. Blue’s class, in fact. When she announced her maternity leave last summer, the district worked hard to find a long-term substitute qualified to teach such a high level course. Unfortunately, the person they selected was then offered a fulltime position in another district, after teaching at Heights for just one week.
Ms. Blue maintained contact with her students, emailing regularly with Idris, while the class was taught by someone with a general science background. Idris was not deterred, especially because Chemistry is his favorite subject and what he hopes to study in college. He went to the bookstore at Case Western Reserve University and bought SAT, ACT, and AP Chemistry textbooks and has been studying and taking practice tests regularly at home.
Ms. Blue has since returned to class and is offering extra study sessions to catch her students up before the May exam, including Saturday sessions. “I’m relieved,” said Idris. “Now I think we might have a chance on the AP test.”
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“Going to college is very important in my family.”
His expectations for himself and his future are high; attending college is an automatic. “Going to college is very important in my family,” he said. His current list of colleges is long and includes some in Ohio, like Case and Ohio State, but also the University of Kentucky, New York University, and – his top choice – Duke.
“Their chemistry program is in the top three in the nation. That’s why I want to go there,” said Idris, who loves science and hopes to be a research chemist or medical researcher.
He studies regularly, going over his class notes weeks before a scheduled test. “I’m pretty good at studying. Plus, our teachers are good at giving us enough strategies to guarantee we really know the content.”
He likes to stay one step ahead so he’s never forced to cram. This week, he has tests in AP Government and Honors Algebra 2, plus a persuasive essay due in AP English Language & Composition. “Finishing the essay is the hardest,” he admitted. “I have to make sure I’m precise and have good flow, plus check my grammar and make sure all my content is accurate.”
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On top of all his school commitments, Idris, whose friends call him Dre, held down a part-time job in the kitchen at Dewey’s Pizza for over a year. He has since quit for lack of time – proof that he is, indeed, human. But not before saving enough money to pay his way on the Heights baseball team’s upcoming spring training trip to Florida.
Baseball, while an enormous time commitment, also lets him see his friends and have some fun. While he hopes to make varsity this year, he said he’ll be just as happy being the starting catcher for JV-A, with more guaranteed playing time.
“Idris is a dedicated Heights baseball player."
Head coach Ed Mugridge is impressed with Dre’s attitude. “Idris is a dedicated Heights baseball player - usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. If there’s ever downtime before practice or on a long bus ride, he’s likely to be reading or studying. On the field he’s a leader in his role as catcher - calling pitches, directing the fielders, and encouraging his teammates. Idris is truly the prototype scholar-athlete.”
This week, he’ll miss Saturday morning baseball for his final Science Olympiad tournament, though he always emails his coaches to let them know ahead of time. “I think that’s the professional thing to do,” said the 17-year old. Saturday’s tournament is at Case, which Idris said is lucky because he “only” has to be at Heights High at 7am instead of the usual 6.
He’ll compete in five events: fossils, coding, chemistry lab, geologic mapping, and circuits. “They’re all hard. But chem lab is always my favorite.”
Once at home, he completes his chores, which include sweeping the kitchen and hallway, and making his bed each day, plus vacuuming the living room and doing laundry each week. “I just like to live in a neat space,” he said with a shrug.
And Sunday? Well, on Sunday Idris Hakeem can be found engaging in that favorite activity of teenagers everywhere.
“I’m sleeping in.”