Your Story Matters brings Mason's rich culture to life through story. You'll hear stories from staff, students, and community members designed to celebrate diversity, passion, and purpose. Our stories weave our commUNITY together - let's listen and connect!
This week’s #YourStoryMatters podcast features Curt Bly, Mason High School’s Varsity Baseball Coach who has taught English to MHS seniors for the last 22 years. Bly shares how he and his family are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of the ways he is leaning on #CometCulture lessons when helping his students and players process the loss that comes from a school year cut short, and a baseball season cancelled.
“There are things that happen in our life that are true perspective-creating events.”
Fatma Elmaery, Shaimaa Garaween and Brandi Holmes helped found the Lunar Moms, a group of Muslim-American Mason City Schools Moms. The Lunar Moms have spear-headed several efforts to give back to the schools through the Mason Schools Foundation, hosting a CommUNITY Iftar sponsored by Diversity Council, and providing children's books and resources to Mason teachers.
This episode of the Your Story Matters podcast was recorded before our country was impacted by COVID-19. A lot has changed since then - including the ability to hold the Diversity Council sponsored CommUNITY Iftar this year. For all of our neighbors who are preparing this week to enter the month-long holiday of Ramaddan, we know it will be different when breaking fast without friends and extended family. We wish you and all of our listeners good health.
This week’s #YourStoryMatters podcast features Jeff Schlaeger, Mason High School’s School Psychologist and SIBS advisor. Jeff shares stories of the people in his life who have made his passion for “saying something” about suicide very personal, and how proud he is to work with students who are ending the stigma around talking about mental health. As a dad of a recent graduate and a high school senior, Jeff shares how he and his family are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic - including how they are celebrating Passover during this time of social distancing.
This week’s #YourStoryMatters podcast features Mason High School Class of 1986’s Kevin Peyton, the Executive Director of Joshua’s Place - one of the district’s partners in providing holiday help and food assistance to families in need. Kevin shares the quick pivot that happened as the organization understood how the COVID-19 pandemic would particularly challenge families in poverty, and provides information about a new win-win opportunity to support our local businesses and families in need with the Comet Carry Out. Kevin also pastors a local church, and like billions of Christians around the world is preparing to celebrate the holiest of Christian holidays during this time of social distancing. He shares that while the sacraments will be different, he is embracing that this is a point of time and to remain focused on what Easter really means. Kevin and his wife, Nona, started dating in 8th grade and are the proud parents of two adult children, and a much loved grandson.
This week’s #YourStoryMatters podcast features Mason Intermediate School teacher Amy Boynton. Amy has been teaching Mason sixth graders math for the last 17 years. She and her husband, Brian, are the proud parents of two children Ella & Axel. Ella was diagnosed with leukemia a week before her second birthday, and the family is passionate about raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
For 13 years, Lenka Crawshaw has been serving Mason English Language Learners and their families as an ESL Aide. Originally from Chile and trained as a midwife, Lenka moved to the United States as an adult and married her ESL tutor. She and husband have been married for 25 years, and are the proud parents of 4 Mason High School graduates. The Crawshaws love serving the community, and in their spare time enjoy biking, yoga, playing pickleball and euchre, and salsa dancing.
This week's #YourStoryMatters podcast features Mason Early Childhood Center first grade teacher BJ Smallwood. BJ's calling to be an educator happened after experiencing it. He wanted to go into sports broadcasting and loved an internship with Fox Sports. As a college student wanting to earn some extra money, he picked up a job at Miami University's daycare, and the rest is history. After student-teaching in Mason, he's been impacting his students and colleagues' lives for the last 17 years as a Comet. The Dad of two Comets is grateful to tell people he "Gets to go to school, not I have to go to work."
"There was never, ever a time I thought I'd be a teacher"
This week's #YourStoryMatters podcast features Mason High School senior Quinn Robinson. Quinn is a star on the school's competitive jump rope team, the Comet Skippers, an active member of SIBS and NHS, and one of the founding members of the school's Hope Squad. She and her classmates are encouraging community members to attend a special event on February 27 with Kate Fagan, New York Times best-selling author of What Made Maddy Run, who will share how achievement culture affects teens, as well as the need to increase communication on the transition from high school to college.
Mason High School Child Nutrition Kitchen Manager Sarah Burkhart is a face many students look forward to seeing each day. Not only does she oversee making sure that 3500 high school students are fed lunch in an hour and half - but she has a gift for really seeing people, and being there for kids who need someone in their corner. Sarah is a biracial single mom of three Mason Comets, and serves on the school's Inclusive Excellence Team.
Dr. Littisha Bates serves as an Associate Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Affiliate of Africana Studies at the University of Cincinnati, where she is a co-founder and executive board member of the Black Faculty Association. Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Littisha and her husband, Juan, are now raising three Comets. Littisha shares how important it is for marginalized peoples to have affinity groups, and is excited about how the district's Culture and Inclusive Excellence work impact our children and community.
MHS Social Studies teacher Dan Broaddrick shares some of the trauma from his childhood, and the impact that had on his life and choices. As an adopted child, he struggled with his identity and issues of abandonment. His Christian faith and relationship with his wife, MHS math teacher Tina Broaddrick, helped him heal and find purpose in helping others. Dan and Tina are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and are the proud parents of two children - a biological son, and a daughter originally from Ethiopia who they adopted.
Mason Intermediate fifth graders Chloe Zhang and Amy Wang share their experiences as first-generation Chinese-American girls growing up in Mason. The girls are excited about their Lunar New Year celebrations. (The Year of the Rat begins on January 25, 2020.) Both girls look forward to receiving lucky "red pockets" which contain money, and eating lucky foods like dumplings.
Mason Elementary School teacher Eryn Kramer is a energetic, enthusiastic, and joyful advocate for her students in the Social Communications and School Fundamentals Classroom. She shares that she has always had "big feelings" and that she often felt very average in school. Growing up, some of Eryn's best friends had disabilities. Those friendships and connections shaped Eryn in profound ways and she believes she landed her "dream job" when she was hired in Mason in two years ago.
When Charles Galvin was elected to the Board of Education in November 2017, he became the school board’s first millennial member. He and his wife, Natalie, are the joyful (and sleepy!) parents of two future Comets under the age of 4. An avid believer in this year’s Mason #CommUNITY Read, Atomic Habits by James Clear, Charles has been working to intentionally build habits that ensure he’s present with his family.
Sonia Milrod’s parents were among the 20,000 European Jews who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Shanghai, China. Sonia tells the amazing story of their very different journeys, and regularly shares their story at the Cincinnati Holocaust & Humanity Center, located in Union Terminal.
In the early 2000s, Sonia was an Assistant Superintendent in Mason City Schools where she helped launch our English as a Second Language program. A 16-year resident of Mason, she retired last year from the Mayerson Academy after 48 years in education.
Rachel Craddock is a Mason Mom of four whose own mother died of breast cancer while Rachel was in her teens. She shares her struggles with depression, anxiety, and a need to try to control her life - and how her Christian faith has been instrumental in seeing her through. As a carrier of the PALB2 gene mutation, last year her doctors told her she needed to have a double mastectomy - and she was forced to ask for help from a community and church that was ready to support. An author and preacher’s wife, last year she also released her book, Slowly Unraveled, where she shares how God has been slowly unraveling her story.
Doaa Jasim is the busy mom of five children - TWO sets of Comet twins and a preschooler. One of the founding Lunar Moms of Mason (a group of Muslim Moms), Doaa and the other Mason women have spear-headed several efforts to give back to the schools through the Mason Schools Foundation, hosting a CommUNITY Iftar sponsored by Diversity Council, and providing resources to Mason teachers. Doaa's commitment to giving back was inspired by her mother, the author of the "A Cup of Mint Tea" short story collections. Doaa's mother and father came to the United States from Iraq in the 1980s and understand first-hand the impact that war has on children. Each year, Doaa's children ask their friends to donate what would have been their birthday presents to help orphans around the world.
Tamara Earl leads the district's Child Nutrition Department which serves over 25,000 meals a week - the largest restaurant in Warren County! For 20 years, she has worked diligently to ensure that Mason’s children are getting tasty, healthy meals at a great value - all while ensuring that the program is self-sustaining and doesn’t tap into any of the district’s general funds from the operating budget. A mother of three, working in Mason became an important second act for Earl. She appreciates that her coworkers have become like family - and have supported her through critical moments like when her granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer.
Two years ago, Felix Santa Lopez and his family moved to Mason from Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. While nervous about leaving his home in the middle of his teens, Felix quickly began connecting with others. He thanks Spanish Teacher Rod Stewart as one of his very first friends. Felix received a perfect attendance award last year, is a recent recipient of the Kiwanis Making a Difference Award, and is a member of the Spanish National Honor Society.
In this week's #YourStoryMatters podcast, we thought we'd Press Pause for a moment & give thanks to some special people who have made a difference in our lives. Hear from Central Office staffers Jonathan Cooper, Theresa Bird, Todd Petrey, Jan Hill, Liz Maloney & Cynthia Stubenvoll and a couple of our youngest Comets - MCS Daycare students Gus Strudhoff & Ruby Distell.
Thank you, Mason Family. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Originally a flavor scientist, Jill Waldon is a preschool teacher at the Mason Central Daycare where she cares for Mason City Schools’ staff’s children. She and her husband, Wade, are the parents of 6 Comets - three biological and three siblings they adopted from Haiti. She shares the trauma (and secondary trauma) that her family has experienced, and how therapy and their belief in God and their family heals.
90-year old Fred Stemmler is a legendary advocate for the Mason Comets. In the 1990's he founded the Senior Citizens Pep Club at the urging of Dr. Kevin Bright and Coach Gerry Lachey - a move to help give more community support to the district's female athletes. A Mason Dad and Grandpa, he is a Korean War Veteran who spent four years flying missions in the P-80 Shooting Star - the first jet fighter used operationally by the United States Army Air Forces.
Following his time in the service, he became an engineer at GE Aviation and in 1960 bought a home in Mason - primarily because it had air conditioning! Fred is a dedicated community servant, and has been an instrumental member of Mason Kiwanis and the Mason Presbyterian Church.
Mason Middle School Spanish teacher Ashley Palac is multilingual. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she speaks Mandarin, Spanish and English - and is trying to raise her bi-racial children (who share a birthday) to appreciate their cultural heritage. Before teaching, Ashley spent 7 years in the Army Reserves; enlisting at the beginning of the Afghanistan War. The mother of two nearly gave birth to her son at MMS- further proof that this mama is tough!
Mason Dad Dave Charpentier is an entrepreneur and executive coach for Conscious Dynamics - a company he founded to help people and teams with their social and emotional intelligence. The former Army Ranger credits his military service for helping to shine a light on how different people can struggle with different workplace dynamics. David is the Commander of the local American Legion Post 194, an active volunteer in his children and step-children's schools, and a yoga instructor.
The Nichani family moved to Mason from Kentucky - primarily for the schools and the community’s rich diversity. Mili Nichani and son Ishaan recently shared their Diwali traditions with Ishaan's third grade classmates at Mason Elementary. Both Mili and Ishaan have grown up in the United States, and are proud of their Indian-American culture.
Tracey Carson has led the district’s communication and connection efforts for 15 years as Mason City Schools Public Information Officer. As Mason’s lead for Big Rock 2: Inclusive Excellence, she shepherds the district’s work to deepen appreciation for diversity, and commitment to equity, inclusion, and justice. The mom and future mother-in-law of two MHS Class of 2014 graduates shares how being open to the opportunity that sometimes comes with a “shoulder shrug” has made a difference in her life.
Mason City Schools Innovative Systems Officer Christine McCormick leads the district’s efforts to ensure that our systems and technology keep the people - the user - at the heart of what we do. As Mason’s lead for Big Rock 1: Culture, she shepherds the district’s work to build an engaging, inclusive, and positive culture. The mother of three shares the pivots in her professional and personal life that made her understand the importance of being herself.
Mason High School Intervention Specialist Hakim Oliver has helped Mason students find their voice over the last 14 years. After growing up in LA, his family moved to Loveland, Ohio where he found that he loved school and wanted to be a teacher. Hakim is a member of the high school's Inclusive Excellence team, and has helped lead diversity and equity work at his church, Crossroads, and as an advisor for the MHS student group MIC (Mason Inclusion Club).
Mason Early Childhood Center educational aide Fairy Shokohee has an optimism that buoys others' spirits. The native of Iran credits that attribute as one she admires in her biggest influence - her mother, whose glass half-full outlook is so strong she astounded medical staff by pulling through a difficult surgery. A mother of a child with a learning disability, Fairy offers that her son taught her to be a better mom by giving her patience - a gift she uses with her students, too. She loves working at MECC, and says that being in a place where "inclusive excellence" is being lived out makes her feel less homesick.
Mason High School senior Andrea Hefferan has found her voice - in Spanish and English. The bi-lingual managing editor of the high school’s nationally-recognized student newspaper, The Chronicle, expresses her creativity as a dancer with the regional group, Cincinnati Baila. After being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as a Mason Intermediate School fourth grader, she underwent a major surgery her sophomore year, and has learned to appreciate the gift of health. A National Merit Semifinalist, she shares that she’s excited to see some of the shifts that are happening in Mason to help students move away from a culture of comparison and embrace self-care.
Mason Elementary School & Mason Intermediate School counselor Michelle Krugh always shows up for people - her colleagues, her students, her families, her friends. The mom of MHS twin girls has been supporting Comet kids for 21 years - and believes that today's children need more help learning to regulate their emotions. A licensed family therapist, she helped design MI's AWARE program (All Working at Respecting Everyone) and is thrilled about the district's investment in additional mental wellness support this year.
Mason City Schools Chief Talent Officer Tonya McCall leads the district's recruitment and retention efforts to keep Mason a destination district. She spent 20 years at the helm of Mason Middle School where she helped coin the school's motto of "Every Kid, Every Day." She was instrumental in bringing together teams of teachers and staff to plan the total renovation of the school - and MMS staff recently celebrated her contributions by christening their lounge "McCall's Staffeteria." :) A product of Toledo Public Schools, Ohio's desegregation efforts required that she leave her predominantly black elementary school classmates to be bussed to a junior high school that was predominantly white. That experience gave her unique insight as she became a teacher and administrator in suburban southwest Ohio schools.
Mason High School sophomore Kaya Rossey is a founding member of the high school's two-year old Hope Squad - a class of students who are trained to watch for at-risk students, provide friendship, identify suicide-warning signs, and seek help from adults. Like other Squad members, Kaya was chosen by her peers to be in Hope Squad because they saw her as trustworthy and caring. Kaya shares her own mental wellness journey, and credits family and teachers like Mason Middle School's Ricardo Grayer and Mason High School's Michelle Bruewer for recognizing her struggle and encouraging her to find her voice. Kaya hopes to one day be a child life specialist - a career path inspired by witnessing the impact these special people had on her friends - the Maya Collins family.
Mason City Schools bus driver Bob Cross's life reminds that some of the most important parts of our stories can come later. Growing up as an only child, Bob always knew he was adopted and that he was a Native Alaskan. He never knew very much about his culture, however, and didn't know how to find his family. That all changed at 65 - when he connected with his four siblings on the very day that they buried his birth father.
Mason City Schools Deputy Superintendent Amy Brennan's educational journey was prompted by a question. As a high school student growing up in St. Paul Minnesota, she was concerned that her diverse classmates weren't represented in the honors courses she was taking. Her question became a mission to see public education's promise fulfilled - and to witness the special connections that happen inside a community with great public schools.
Krissy Hufnagel has been influencing Mason students and staff for 25 years. Three years ago, she left the classroom to take a role as an innovation coach, and this year she is helping lead the district's Personalized Learning efforts in her role as a Learning Experience Supervisor for grades PK-6. The daughter of a German immigrant, Krissy reflects on the values she learned as a child, and how she has tried to grow a culture of empathy and optimism within her own two children.
Shanna Bumiller is on a mission to bust the myths around personalized learning. Mason’s Learning Experience Supervisor for grades 7-12, her passion is personal - and rooted in wanting to create better experiences for students like her brother, who struggled in school.
A veteran bus driver and safety trainer, Rebecca Bate is beginning her 19th year at the wheel in her hometown. A Mason grad, Rebecca shares the joy in raising her own Comet, how being in the Wm. Mason High School Marching band shaped her, and some of safety measures the transportation department takes to make sure students get to school and home safe and sound.
Jim Fox never stops learning. Following retirement, the former Mason City Councilman began working at Mason High School as a study hall monitor and recently published a book. The MHS Class of 1969 grad shares how Mason educators shaped his journey, and his pride in what Mason has become as it grew - both in numbers and cultural diversity.
Hannah Humes is a trailblazer. She was the first student with Downs Syndrome to be a member of the high school’s Teaching Academy, to work in the Comet Zone [the school store], and to be inducted into the Young Women’s National Honor Society. Hannah and her mom, Marcy Humes, share their experience in Mason, and what they are looking forward to as Hannah enters her senior year at Mason High School and prepares for life after high school.
MHS junior Mariah Norman has been using her voice to stand up for herself and others since her first grade teacher, Mrs. Jarmon, told her that she was a great communicator. A Mason Inclusion Club (MIC) board member, Co-President of the Fashion Club, and member of the track and field team, Mariah is also an Instragram ambassador who works with the platform to medicate the toxicity that can sometimes be found on social media. She plans to pursue Constitutional Law after high school.
Mason Middle School 8th grader Rishika Jeyaprakash founded "Little Helpers" when she was nine. Since that time, the group has performed over 50 service projects, donated more than $5,500 dollars, and provided over 2,000 new toys to the Cincinnati Children’s hospital and thousands of smiles. Rishika is President of the MMS Kiwanis Builders Club, and is excited about starting eighth grade after a year of being a 7th grader on the MI campus during the middle school's renovation. This spirited Comet loves school and serving others, and hopes to practice space medicine in the future.
Mason Intermediate fifth grader Owen Smith attended nearly every reIMAGINE Mason session last spring. He's excited to explore ways to make our large schools feel small, and appreciates the strong academics and diversity that are key ingredients in Mason. He shares how Buddy Benches and Hero Dads are two efforts that make a difference for students. Owen hopes to become an animator.
Owen Smith's Transcription
Katie Lin's professional life hasn't strayed too far from what she always imagined. The Mason Middle School teacher is in her 12th year teaching Mason eighth graders. And, as a 2003 graduate from Mason High School who was inspired by legendary educator Annie Helwig, she hopes she's bringing some of the same self-deprecating humor and love to her students. But personally, as the wife of a Chinese-American man with whom she's raising a two-year old bi-racial child, Katie admits she's learning a lot about what it means to live out inclusive excellence authentically.
Transcript for Katie's podcast.
Mason Intermediate School fifth grade teacher Litty Mathai has a heart for children and their teachers. As a first generation Indian-American, she was inspired by the love of caring educators who saw her as more than a student with limited English, and she pushed back on pressure to go into STEM so that she could become a reflective, risk-taking teacher inspiring a generation of kind, knowledgeable citizens. The mom of two shares the joys of parenting, and the importance of loving on kids.
Transcript for Litty's podcast.
Mason Elementary School third grade teacher Kristen Lazuta makes conscious choices to find joy in life's small, imperfect moments. The Mason mom of two reflects on her own upbringing as a military family making lots of moves, tells how she's learning through the grief of losing her best friend - her younger brother, and shares what it's like to get the call from school that something hasn't gone quite right for your child.
Transcript for Kristen
Mason Early Childhood Center second grade teacher Soroya Smith makes a conscious choice to stand up to bias - for her four children, for her students, for herself. As a black child growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, she felt the duality of being unseen and yet also hyper visible. As an adult, she embraces an identity of being a "box cutter", and is seeing the growth that happens when we stop pursuing perfection.
Jonathan Cooper is entering his second year as Mason City Schools Superintendent. The father of four shares how his early learning struggles shaped his perception of himself, how he tried to run away from education, and how he found his calling with the help of people who spoke truth to him.
Mason High School Principal Bobby Dodd is beginning his second year at the helm of Ohio's largest high school. But his journey to Mason (and to education) wasn't a straight shot. Hear about his pivots along the way, and the advice he gives to families about the importance of letting students take time to decide their post-high school options rather than simply defaulting to a four year university.
What's it like to be tapped to lead one of Ohio's largest and highest performing middle schools at the age of 29? Lauren Gentene reflects on her journey from being a student who didn't like "playing school", to growing up the daughter of a rock star educator, to lessons from mentors (including former teachers and students and colleagues), and how her faith guides her.
Mason Intermediate School Principal Eric Messer wears his heart on his sleeve - and leads the way in forging caring relationships with his students, staff and families. Hear about this Mason dad's dreams for education, what he learned from his mom who died during his first year of teaching, and how he navigates the difference between healthy competition and cutthroat competition.
Javaris Powell will be leading a brand new school for Mason's 3rd and 4th graders - Mason Elementary which is located on the Mason Intermediate Campus. The Mississippi native shares crucial educational moments that shaped his journey, what its like to embrace 'nerding out', and the impact of Mason's Big Rocks.
Mason Early Childhood Center Principal Melissa Bly shares what it was like to grow up poor in Mason, and the teachers who made a difference by seeing past labels. The Mason Mom shares how important it is to admit you're not always right, and gives strategies for how the Bly's carve out family time.