Day off well spent

The kids came from the city to the river on the school bus for lunch and it was a heck of a day for them.

There was Eddie Gray, Cara Harris, Landon Chambers, Kendall Prophett, Sunny Burnett and Erica Shields.

And there was Donisha Kershaw, Le'Andre Acoff, Brandi Turner, LeRoy Coates.

De'Angelo Stone earned the trip by getting 100 on the test and attending all the classes. But he had a broken leg and couldn't come.

It was OK, because John Jackson brought him a bag, anyway. All the kids got a bag. A Bengals hat. A Bengals T-Shirt. Bengals sweat bands. A specialized Boat House lunch menu for South Avondale School.

This was Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July all rolled into one big bag from the Bengals Pro Shop.

Maybe the best day of the year for them. Maybe the last two years. Maybe for a long time.

"No, I hope not," said Jackson Tuesday. "You'd like to think it's only going to be good days for them."

For Jackson, the Bengals' homegrown left tackle, it was a day off during a relentless 2-10 season, and he was doing what the media guides say he does.

Giving back to the community.

So Jackson made sure the seventh- and eighth-graders had a good time at Montgomery Inn's Boat House. He grew up wary and strong on the same tough streets of South Avondale School, but he never really left.

He admits they aren't the same streets now. They're tougher because families aren't staying together like they once did. Most of South Avondale School's kids are from one-parent homes, or foster situations, or other programs. Sometimes Lori Cahall, who teaches them, would like to see more smiles. But she loves their determination and you know why if you just ask the kids.

They will tell you it's tough. Their school is "nice, except when it leaks," black splotches through the roof. They will tell you there are drug dealers in their neighborhood and that not many families from where they come from can eat Montgomery Ribs very often in a place where there are cloths on the tables.

"Not every day," Landon Chambers said.

"Too expensive," Eddie Gray said. "Too much money."

But they will also tell you things are good.

Landon remembers last year when the school scraped together a little more than 1,000 pennies to help save the Abraham Lincoln statue in front of their school at the corner of Reading and Forest roads.

"It was good because it showed people we could rally around a cause," Landon said. "School spirit."

So there were all smiles at the Boat House at Tuesday's lunch because Cahall and her students are doing good, positive things in the challenging economics of the Cincinnati Public Schools.

When Cara Harris heard him speak at the assembly two months ago, Cara put two-and-two together about John Jackson.

That was the name on the weight room at the Boys and Girls Club she's been attending the last three years and she thought it was just a donor.

It was, but at the assembly she found out John Jackson was a real guy who grew up where she did and was trying to help out her hometown team after playing a dozen years elsewhere in the NFL.

"I'm a little silly," Cara said as wisely as any Ph.D, "but I'm smart, too."

Smart enough that she's on the B honor roll. Smart enough that she tried to get some cheddar cheese for the French fries that went with her shrimp.

Smart enough that she aced the test Ms. Cahall gave at the end of the six-week unit on "financial literacy." It's a program sponsored by the Cincinnati-based CINCO Federal Credit Union.

CINCO wanted to reach out to schools like South Avondale. But Tony DeBiasse, a CINCO vice president and director for business development, knew he needed some credibility when he walked into a room of 120 inner city seventh- and eighth-graders with a class designed to teach kids about managing money.

DeBiasse, a former college assistant football coach who worked at Xavier and the University of Cincinnati before going into business, had only one guy in mind.

John Jackson, whose foundation he runs with wife Joan has become as well known as his pass blocking, had even grown up in the area.

"When John walked into that assembly, he had their attention," DeBiasse said. "That's what we needed and he gave it to us."

DeBiasse, Cahall and two other CINCO staffers taught the four classes for six Tuesdays. The kids never knew there would be a reward at the end, but here were the 11 kids who had a perfect attendance and perfect test getting their picture taken with John Jackson on the deck of Montgomery Inn as the river sparkled.

The kids weren't sure what or where was the Boat House, but Ms. Cahall explained and Cara Harris approved.

"Nice view," said Cara, . . . P>**

Continued from Homepage

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who couldn't remember being so close to the river, except when she rode over a bridge in a car.

"They were teaching us about every day life," Cara said of the class. "That's what made it fun."

"They gave us a checkbook and a pocket register," Eddie Gray said. "When you buy something and put stuff on the check, you write the name and if the name is small, then you scribble out the rest of the line so no one can write in something extra. And you write down what you bought in the register part. Add up how much you bought and put how much you have left. It was hands-on. They were showing us how not to get cheated."

The kids also learned how to budget their "$200," and Cara Harris liked crafting her grocery lists.

"We had to spend our money on 'needs,' instead of 'wants,'" Cara said. "When I went home and showed it to (her mother), she was happy when she saw that I 'bought,' more than candy. I'm always buying sweet stuff."

Eddie Gray aced this course, which makes him think he can do better in his other studies: "I've got an average report card, but I guess I can do better after this."

Eddie found it a bit surprising that a guy like Jackson grew up where he is.

"Some of the people are real bad, (but) he accomplished a lot of stuff," Eddie said. "And he's from right down there. I'm thinking about doing something else. Not a football player. I'd like to be a lawyer. I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10."

Which is the kind of stuff Jackson wants to hear.

"Growing up, a young person needs stability," Jackson said. "They need parents, but they also need extended families. The big problem they have down there is kids not staying in school. These incentive programs make school more attractive."

The Bengals' hats hid their eyes as they munched soups and sandwiches and shrimp and ribs.

But Jackson knew what they really wanted, and he reached into his wallet to spring for the mountains of dessert.

"Can I shake your hand?" one of the kids asked when Jackson said he had to leave.

Eddie Gray shook his hand and then pressed his own against Jackson's massive mitt to compare the size.

While Eddie laughed, the waitress brought him another soda.

He turned quizzically to Ms. Cahall.

"That's yours," she said. "I told you they'd keep refilling it. But don't drink too much or you might get sick."

But no one gets sick on Christmas, or the Fourth of July, or Thanksgiving.

Then Jackson was gone, quietly down the stairs to get ready for another week being a Bengal. Some days, that's not all bad.

Just ask the kids.

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