Saturday, March 29, 2003

Struble students, staff honor teacher's memory at marathon

$4,600 pledged for Humana Heart run

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Jake Dziech's fifth-grade students surround his parents, Peggy and Cliff Dziech, and sister, Heather Mitchell.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Carly Schiferl ran to her room and hurled a stack of clothes from her closet. The 10-year-old sat there and cried for hours.

That's the effect the untimely death of Jake Dziech had on his students and co-workers at Struble Elementary in the Northwest Local School District. The beloved 31-year-old fifth-grade social studies teacher died of a heart attack Dec. 23.

In his memory, the staff at the 387-student school organized a team to participate in Sunday's Humana Heart Mini-Marathon.. A total of 129 students, teachers, administrators and others from throughout the district will participate. They've raised about $4,600 in pledges.

"I needed to make something positive happen out of this," said Cathy Augustine, a Struble special education teacher who spearheaded the effort starting in February."We hope participating in the Heart Mini-Marathon will help in the healing process."

On Friday, teachers wore their marathon shirts that bear Jake's likeness and the words, "My heart goes out to Jake." While Dziech was not an attention-seeker, Augustine said, several people remarked that he would be pleased.

Dziech was a powerful presence at the K-5 school, where students couldn't wait to be in his class. Hearing the excitement in his classroom, third-graders couldn't resist peeking in as they passed by in the hallway.

Chances are they saw Dziech teaching while wearing his trademark cowboy boots and standing on a stool. The man who overcame his own early childhood struggles with dyslexia was always looking for ways to engage kids and become a better teacher.

About 12,000 people are expected to participate in the 26th annual Humana Heart Mini-Marathon on Sunday. The first event begins 9 a.m. at Fountain Square, downtown.
• A number of streets will be closed 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. to accommodate the Humana Heart Mini-Marathon. The closings:
• Fifth Street between Vine Street and Columbia Parkway.
• Columbia Parkway between Fifth Street and Delta Avenue.
• Torrence Parkway between Columbia Parkway and Madison Road.
• William Howard Taft Road between Columbia and Collins Avenue.
• Local residents will have access in and out of the closed areas.
• Metro's bus service will be rerouted around these closed streets. Information: 621-4455. (MetroCenter is closed on Sundays).
• For information, call 281-4048 or go online.
Colerain Elementary School raised $8,359 in its Jump Rope for Heart event in memory of Jake Dziech. Struble is holding its event this week.
A memorial service for Jake Dziech will be held at 2 p.m. May 13 at Struble Elementary, 2760 Jonrose Ave., Groesbeck.
Memorials may be sent to: District of Northwest Schools Foundation, Atten: Debbie Hopper, 3240 Banning Road, Cincinnati, OH 45239.
In a profession where there are so few male elementary school teachers, Dziech stood out in many ways at Struble. And that's what makes it all the more hard to accept that he's gone.

"He was so good with kids, because he was the perfect role model for a teacher," Principal Sue Caron said. "I think that's what has set us back in such a huge way."

Dziech was a 1990 Colerain High School graduate. He received his college degree from the University of Cincinnati and returned to teach in the Northwest district in 1994 at Struble.

His parents, Cliff and Peggy Dziech of Colerain Township, are convinced that his role as a high school camp counselor for elementary students on their annual trip to Camp Kernwas instrumental in his career decision.

His love of teaching and its rewards influenced his 26-year-old sister, Heather Mitchell, who is a science teacher at Colerain High School. When he attended professional workshops, Dziech always returned determined to try out new techniques. He always carried a yardstick, not to intimidate the students, but as a tool to engage them. When it cracked against the wall to make a point, students jumped.

"He could be their friend, yet he could be their teacher," Augustine said. "It's a rare quality, but it's wonderful."

Struble students will always remember his role as Rudolph in the annual performance of the "Reindeer Rap." Dziech, wearing a bright red blinking nose, would pop up amid a group of student performers.

Struble students treasure the notes he wrote, thanking them for the presents they had given him before Christmas break. The notes were delivered after he died.

He thanked Jesse McGuire for the chocolate goodies and hot chocolate. "I will surely enjoy them on Christmas morning," he wrote.

"He never got to enjoy the things we gave him," Jesse said.

Added Courtney Mangus: "He was way too young."


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