1971-2007 – The Foundational Years
In the late 1960s and early 1970s neighborhood parents and grandparents started seeking a way to address the dropout crisis in Lower Price Hill. At the time, an alarming 98% of local students dropped out of school and completely dis-engaged from formal education. In the face of this reality, several residents came together to start offering tutoring for the young adults who dropped out. They gathered around kitchen tables and family rooms to build new opportunities together and create a solution to a need.
In 1971, community leaders and local non-profit advocates decided to formalize these efforts to educate the community and formed the Lower Price Hill Community School, a 501c3 non-profit organization. The Community School, as it was commonly called, challenged the assumptions about high school dropouts by offering a new path forward in education. We started in a dimly lit room in the basement of the Saint Michael Church in Lower Price Hill with one full-time coordinator and a group of volunteers.
By 1982, the Community School had already helped more than 150 people earn their General Equivalency Diploma (GED) through tutoring; which has always been free and open to everyone. With a growing student body, we moved out of the basement of the Church and into the third floor of the former Saint Michael school building. In this space, we began offering free childcare and expanded our one-on-one tutoring to meet the needs of students through personal guidance and by removing barriers to education.
In the 1980s the School leadership decided to also challenge the notion that high school dropouts could not go on to college. They partnered with Xavier University to bring college courses into the community to open the doors to higher education in Lower Price Hill. The college access component has since evolved into a cornerstone of the organization through a strong partnership with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, formed in 1998.
2007-2011 – Period of Great Transformation
From 1971 to 2007, a two-man team, Jake Kroger and Tom Stegmaier, and a group of AmeriCorps volunteers led the Community School. In 2007, the long-time leaders passed the torch to a new leader, Jen Walters. Soon after the leadership change in 2008 many exciting changes took shape as we transitioned from being tenants of one floor to owners and stewards of the entire former Saint Michael Church complex.
In the same year, we assumed responsibility for the food pantry and thrift store that had been operated by a group of former Saint Michael parishioners. The community expressed a strong desire for these services to remain open and we therefore incorporated them into our mission to meet community need. During the period from 2007 to 2010 our student enrollment doubled in size as we went from serving 250 students per year to 500 students in 2010.
In 2011, we were awarded the opportunity to receive state and federal historic and new market tax credits to completely renovate our complex. Before we began to raise funds for this unique opportunity, we first evaluated our place within the community and sought extensive input on our future planning. The community expressed a clear consensus on our role as the stewards of this historic community landmark (our five building complex) and as champions of education in Lower Price Hill. With this charge, we began fundraising $2 million of private funds to leverage with the tax credits.
In 2012-2013, we completed our private fundraising goals and in August of 2013 began construction on our complex in Lower Price Hill. The renovation will include a complete restoration of all five buildings to preserve the structures, improve functionality, and increase efficiency. We anticipate construction will be completed in early 2015.
In February of 2014, the Urban Appalachian Council (UAC), a community based organization, closed its doors due to lack of funding. After seeking community input, we decided to continue the GED program that UAC had operated in East Price Hill. We assumed ownership of the property on Warsaw Avenue and formed a partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools ABLE to continue this program.
With the new opportunities presented with our renovation grant and the changing needs of the surrounding communities we began a comprehensive planning process to determine how we should move forward as an organization. Since the beginning, our organization has always remained focused on community centered growth and development. We want to always keep this focus and to drive our decision from community energy and ideas.
With this in mind, we decided it was time to re-name our organization to reflect our current reality and to better serve the greater community. In June 2014, Lower Price Hill Community School was reborn as Education Matters in order to fully capture our identity and reimagine the original principle set by the parents and grandparents seeking change in the 1970s; that education matters.
Founding Community Matters
With the ability to effectively use our entire complex in Lower Price Hill, we made an intentional decision to branch our community-based programs into a new non-profit organization. This will keep our mission and identity pure and ensure that we are being impactful. In 2014, we formed Community Matters to carry on our mission to remove barriers to opportunity in our community. Community Matters will have the same leadership team with Jen Walters, Emily Eskridge and Mary Knauff and will serve as a sister organization working to develop opportunities with our neighbors. For more information on Community Matters click here.
Read a History of the historic Saint Michael’s complex here.