It's 7:15 on a weekday morning when the last yellow school bus rolls into the parking lot at CAPE. Children pour out, dressed in a motley assortment of sweats and sneakers. Several football players wear state championship jackets. They're due in class in 10 minutes.
Some have had to get up at five to catch their buses. They hate the regimen and gripe about long hours spent "riding the cheese" to the school, which is located in north Cincinnati. CAPE is actually two buildings, a mile apart. One, a former all-black elementary school, stands in the middle of some housing projects; it's the home of the kindergarten through fifth grade. The other, which is situated on a forested hillside, was once a junior high; it encompasses grades 6 through 12. The student body in each building is racially balanced—and that's the whole point of CAPE and of the 26 other alternative, or magnet, programs in Cincinnati. In response to a 1974 NAACP lawsuit attacking segregation in Ohio schools, Cincinnati, with a student population that is 57% black, instituted the magnet programs, which offer specialized study in computers, math, the performing arts and other fields. The specialized schools encourage black students to voluntarily ride buses into white areas, and white students to ride buses into black areas. By and large the program has succeeded. In 1984 the NAACP, satisfied that the alternative schools program was working, settled its lawsuit.
CAPE, with its emphasis on phys ed, has turned out to be a special success. It accepts applicants from throughout the city on a first-come, first-served basis, with quotas by race, sex and grade level. There are no entrance exams, and despite the accusations of recruiting, athletic ability is not taken into account. Last year more than 1,500 students applied for 300 openings.
Jock Tech it is not. Some parents choose it because it is highly disciplined and small (525 high school students, 1,600 overall). Others like the academics: CAPE stresses basics and has tougher graduation requirements than most other Cincinnati public schools. Its students must pass one more course per quarter than those in other Cincinnati schools to remain eligible for interscholastic sports and they must endure a school day that is an hour longer.
CAPE students spend an average of three times as many hours in phys-ed classes as other Cincinnati public school kids. In the lower grades they concentrate on motor skills; later they receive training in dozens of sports and outdoor activities—from basketball to rappeling—and study physiology and nutrition as they apply to various endeavors. At a time when youth fitness is a national disgrace—40% of boys and 70% of girls cannot do more than one pull-up—CAPE asks its students to shape up. "Here we take seriously the notion of a sound mind in a sound body," says principal John Maher. "Our motto is nulli secundo—second to none."
Only 17 states (including Ohio) have any P.E. requirements at all in their public schools. Typically, Cincinnati high school students might not be required to take any phys-ed classes at all their junior and senior years. Generally, a CAPE student's curriculum includes at least one course in the "skills-practice program," in which students are expected to become proficient in "lifetime" activities. From kindergarten through third grade the only skills-practice course offered is gymnastics, which develops strength, coordination and flexibility. Older students can take aerobic dance, golf and tennis as well as such unconventional electives as riflery, unicycling and juggling.
Unlike many other schools, CAPE has made a real commitment to building healthy children. "If you find 10 kids out of the 1,600 here who are overweight, you're lucky," says Maher. These positive effects appear to carry into other areas. CAPE's reading and math test scores are the third highest in the city, behind only the college-prep magnet program and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, both of which have entrance requirements. At the same time CAPE has some of the lowest rates of drug use, vandalism, dropouts and pregnancy in the city. "Kids want to be here," says Maher. "That makes a tremendous difference."
In room 005B, Eric Novicki instructs 11th-and 12th-graders in a vocational program called Health Fitness. The students learn the rudiments of athletic training, sports medicine and physical therapy in preparation for college programs in these fields or for jobs in physical-therapy clinics or health spas. "A lot of the people who work in health spas are just muscle-heads," says Novicki. "Our kids understand the reason things are done." Students in the program tape ankles, test basketball players for strength and endurance and serve internships at area clinics and clubs.
Backstage in the auditorium there are archery and riflery classes. "It's the only place we have for them," says Bruce Breiner, CAPE's 31-year-old athletic director. Aside from a lot of sports medicine equipment and a $45,000 weight room, the school's athletic facilities are surprisingly limited. The swim team has no pool; it practices in a local recreation center. The track team trains in the streets and has no home meets. There are no courts for the tennis team, which plays on municipal facilities. Two newly graded practice fields are still covered with grass seed and straw. "In six years we've yet to work out on a full field," says Sheehan, whose team trains on a 60-yard patch of scrub with one set of bent and rusty goalposts.
But facilities aren't critical to success. Two years ago CAPE's girls' track team won the state title. Their coach, Jim En-gel, a science teacher of Einsteinian appearance, sells dill pickles that he stores in his classroom refrigerator to raise money for what he jokingly calls "the track team slush fund"; the money goes to buy shoes and other equipment for poorer team members.