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The Sweeneys: High Achievement Is a Family Tradition

By Asia Nail
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

Despite our current circumstances regarding the pandemic, a shining star from E.L. Bowsher High School’s 2020 graduating class has persevered and been named valedictorian.

With her exemplary work and determination, senior Caroline Sweeney, has earned this esteemed honor.

As college and high school graduations take place, thousands of high achieving students like Caroline, will step to socially-distanced podiums and deliver their graduating class’s farewell remarks at commencement ceremonies virtually this year.

These select students – generally the graduating seniors with the highest grade point averages, or GPAs – are recognized with formal titles: valedictorian and salutatorian respectively.

In covering this story, excitedly, we found out the Sweeney name carries a lineage of academic excellence.

Following in her siblings' footsteps, Caroline Sweeney will be the third of her siblings to hold valedictorian and salutatorian titles in the past four years!

These titles have come to symbolize the highest honors you can achieve academically and upon high school graduation every child in the Sweeney home has achieved it. We sat down (virtually) with all five members of the Sweeney family to find out what’s their secret.

Calvin and Christine Sweeney lead the ministry of The Tabernacle Church, located in the heart of Toledo, at 531 Pinewood Ave. They have extensive academic backgrounds:  Christine Sweeney graduated from University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Toledo.

Calvin Sr. has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in curriculum and Instruction, mathematics, and a PhD in Educational Theory and Social Foundations and Leadership all from the University of Toledo.

As the leaders of this multigenerational house of God, Calvin and his wife share:

We’ve been the pastors at The Tabernacle since 2011. Our church is focused on introducing people to Jesus while making sure we show tangible acts of love to our community.”

They have three children who all have had the highest GPAs in their respective schools, congratulations. What role has education played in your family?

Christine Sweeney:

“I was raised by my mom with my brother and my mom always stressed the importance of education. She told us it wasn’t enough just to graduate from high school but attending college was also necessary because education brings choices. That’s something we always talk about in this household; the more education the more opportunity.”


Calvin Sweeney:

“My great Aunt and Uncle Henry raised my brother and me. They were from Mississippi and relocated north for a better life. Uncle Henry routinely reminded us that they were only able to get up to a third grade level education back then because they had to work the field. Uncle Henry owned a small construction company. He would always say to me I do this type of work because I have to, but I want doors to open for you. Get your education. 


What is your parenting philosophy?

Christine Sweeney:

Many different factors contribute to our parenting philosophy, but our faith plays the biggest role in our philosophy as parents. We believe God blesses us all with talents and skills to use to the best of our ability. We teach our kids whatever skills God blesses us with, we need to use. 


Calvin and I parent in a two-prong approach to education. We believe in consistency and continuous engagement. The kids can agree.  Every day after school when they would get into the car, I’d ask them how their day was and what they learned. They couldn’t just give one-word answers. I was and will always ask the follow up questions. When we got home, I always asked what homework they needed help with.  We started this process with each child in preschool and it became a daily habit.


Calvin Sweeney:

“We believe that God has given us all a purpose. We encourage our kids to discover their passions in their academics because we believe one’s passions always lead to one’s purpose. Me and my wife Christine always make sure learning takes precedence over doing. It’s not: “Is your homework done?”  It is, “Do you understand what you learned?”

It’s not enough for our kids to just complete an assignment, they have to understand it as well.


Who aided in this understanding?


Christine Sweeney:

“As parents we always encourage the kids to communicate with their teachers, to find online resources, to learn to navigate within the library for resources and to use any resource they have at their disposal. If we don’t know the answer, we always encourage our kids to use all the resources they have available to find one.  We always tell them to never feel like because you don’t know the answer right now, that you should stop looking.”


Are your children active in the community?


Calvin Sweeney:

“All our children are active with extra curriculars and serve various roles in church. The girls do a lot with our children’s church and educational programs, while our son Calvin works a lot with our production team. Their contributions and their feedback have helped on a lot of decisions that we make as a church and a family.”


Christine Sweeney:

“One of the most important things we took into our own hands, is that we wanted to develop our kids high level thinking skills. As it pertains to critical thinking, creative thinking, and decision making, as parents, we never left it up to the schools to develop their academic life solely. Instead, we have always involved our children in conversations and debates. We talk through things and explain topics thoroughly with our kids then we ask them to explain it back to us. All of these things are important. Everyone is poised about debating for the most part and we have learned that, children too, can be very thoughtful.”


Then we spoke with the Sweeney kids. In doing so, we found five distinct categories that seem to have had the biggest impact on their children’s academic success.


Academic Understanding


When we asked the children, to what do they attribute their academic confidence, the consensus was to their parents' foresight for encouraging them to be individual thinkers.


Calvin Jr, who was salutatorian of Toledo Technology Academy in 2018 shares, “I was the student that didn’t like too much structure. I needed to let my ideas flow without micromanagement, so I could better formulate different ideas and thoughts into action.”


“Our parents gave us each an opportunity to choose the high school we wanted to attend. As a futuristic person I decided to go to Toledo Technology Academy.”

“I shadowed a class where they were building robots. I remember thinking, this is the school for me. Seeing all the innovation inside the school gave me to be around like minded people and build on my natural strengths of being a big thinker.”


Extra Curricular Structure

Christina, the oldest and first to receive the honor of valedictorian of Start in 2017 shared, “I was cool with everyone and very sociable in high school. I chose to go to Start High School because I was playing basketball at the time and had built some strong relationships there. I also like schedules, so I loved the structure sports provided in high school. I did basketball, track and dance. I went with what I knew and what felt right for me. My parents always encouraged that.”


Parental & Support System Involvement

Weaving fun academic resources into the special events and programming at The Tabernacle church have also supported both students and parents in the Toledo community in a variety of positive ways.  “We are very intentional when partnering with other organizations in the community,” shares Christine Sweeny.  “We believe children thrive in resource rich environments where parents build successful partnerships with local schools.”

 From Christine Sweeney’s perspective, sometimes parents just need to be willing to speak up. “Parents who practice helping their kids with school-related challenges, naturally feel more comfortable and knowledgeable when talking to teachers. We have high expectations but we keep it simple when we encourage our children to do well in school. We don't force them.”


Parental Trust and Approval


Interestingly, many parents believe restricting their children's behavior, such as the amount of time they spend with friends or watching TV, produces positive effects on grades. The Sweeny’s disagree. Instead they offer the suggestion of grace.


Express a lot of love


To encourage parents who may need to homeschool during this pandemic Christine Sweeney says, “I think it’s important to extend grace to yourself and your kids. Make learning fun. It shouldn’t be about perfection. When we make learning about perfection kids fight against it. But when you extend grace to yourself and your kids you create lifelong learners.”

As schools work to improve traditional instructional practices during coronavirus closures, our hope is that parents of school age children have an opportunity to put the Sweeney’s educational practices to use in their own homes.


 The Sweeneys chimed in to share their youngest daughter’s accomplishments, too, affirming how proud they are of each child’s individual accomplishments.  “I’m going to share this for my youngest daughter Heaven who is being shy, she is a competitive cheerleader, she is also in gifted classes and doing great things. We can’t wait to see where her future will take her as well,” says Christine.


As it pertains to graduation ceremonies this year, according to the superintendent, there will be pomp and circumstance, complete with the band, each student hearing their name called and other celebrations that would be seen at a normal graduation.

TPS Superintendent, Romules Durant, EdD, said the district is having all three options for the schools: virtual, drive-thru, and in-person.


Caroline along with the other valedictorians will be the first in the history to experience this type of virtual ceremony including a personal presentation of their diplomas presented by the superintendent himself.


As valedictorian Caroline encourages her fellow graduates to never back down from a challenge but to instead use the struggle they’re experiencing during coronavirus lockdowns as fuel for their future accomplishments recalling, “I think many of my classmates would say our greatest challenge/victory was surviving geometry. Though in my personal experience, Mr. Myers geometry class was one of my favorites.”


When asked how it feels to be named valedictorian of her 2020 graduating class, Caroline says, “lt is an amazing feeling. There are a lot of high achievers in Toledo and I am honored to represent the class of 2020 in academics.”



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/22/20 00:56:39 -0400.

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