At the Intergenerational Schools, our learning partners come from all walks of life—and that fact is one of the keys to building community within our schools and across Cleveland.
George Gatta discovered Near West Intergenerational School through his early-morning spin classes at Harness Cycle. A retired architect who had spent the later years of his career designing accessible sleepaway camps for children with physical disabilities and other special needs, George jumped at the chance to work with Cleveland students when a spinning classmate who worked at Near West introduced him to the idea. Beginning in Spring 2019, George began meeting weekly with Ms. Labovitz’s Developing Stage class to serve as a math learning partner.
He loved the experience so much that he volunteered again for the 2019-2020 school year, this time assigned to Lauren Onda’s Developing Stage class at Near West. His morning routine for meeting days included commuting from his Cleveland Heights home to Ohio City’s Harness Cycle studio for his 5:30 a.m. class, showering and grabbing coffee at a nearby café, and walking to Near West to meet his class. As with everyone else’s routines, this fell away in March 2020 when COVID-19 forced students, staff and volunteers out of schools.
Just days after the shutdown, George had coordinated with Miss Onda and was logging in for the class’ morning meetings on Zoom, just to stay connected with the students. In the chaos and uncertainty of that first school year of the pandemic, George and his colleagues in Miss Onda’s class were a consistent source of support, joy and energy for each other. George remained engaged throughout the rest of the virtual school year.
George continued meeting the friends he had made at spinning class and championing the experience of being a learning partner, looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year and the hope of eventually returning to in-person learning with Near West students. Unfortunately, on the morning of July 12, 2020, George died unexpectedly at the age of 65 from a heart attack.
From the grief surrounding his death, George’s legacy took root across the community. His friends at Harness Cycle started an online campaign, #GattaLive, that encouraged people to make friends, show up, sweat, and give back. Harness Cycle also hosted a fundraiser ride to benefit Intergenerational Schools among other nonprofits George supported. Altogether, this ride raised $2,500 for the schools.
While George is gone, his legacy lives on at Near West. Inspired and encouraged by his enthusiasm for the school, three fellow riders decided to follow in George’s footsteps and become learning partners at Near West.
This story was featured in our 2020 annual report. Explore the full report at igschools.org/2020annualreport.