Solon High School

Stride for Freedom class

Todd Kopecky (in front) and his students at Solon High School, Stride for Freedom class

In the small town of Solon, Iowa, tucked in between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, sits your typical Iowa high school. I know, because my dad was principal at such a school in Iowa for his entire professional career. But high schools today are very different than the one my dad oversaw. Computers in every classroom, students who are bombarded with the latest technology which delivers more to their awareness than can be imagined, and a stress level that Iowa educators could never even imagine in the 40’s and 50’s when Dad donned his suit and tie for work everyday. But something I experienced at Solon this week gave me the hope that I was looking for in the midst of the craziness of this new 21st Century. In a nutshell, it was Todd Kopecky. He’s the teacher in the photo above, standing in front of some of the students in his Stride Toward Freedom class at Solon. “Why”, I asked myself “is an essentially all-white small town high school offering an elective in the history of the African American experience in this country?” Todd explained that he had inherited the class from Denny Gruber, the teacher before him who had taught this class for 25 years! And Denny couldn’t have put his brainchild into better hands. Todd’s students obviously respect him……….a lot! And it is well-earned respect, I could tell from the hour and a half I spent with the class. I was most impressed with the compassion the students had obviously developed as they learned about the civil rights struggle in this country, especially in the 50’s and 60’s. I heard the words “I can’t believe how African Americans were treated” more times than I could count. Todd had obviously opened another world to these students, and they got it! And the best part was that he related history to their lives today – the importance of how we all treat each other moment to moment in those little encounters that we think don’t make a difference – but are the most important of all.

I’m concerned about what I view as a continued wide gap between so many “groups” in our culture, not just black and white. But when I meet a Todd Kopecky, I know that healthy and strong seeds are being planted in the young people of Solon. And who knows which of those young people may be one of many to inspire others in the future? We need new inspiration to challenge us to overlook our differences. There must be a way to help re-create the Beloved Community that I was blessed to know, if only for a moment, in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s.

Published in: on December 6, 2006 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment