Missy Weiler believed that education is the pathway out of poverty. She and her husband, Bob Weiler, have spent their lives supporting causes dear to them, especially those that help children succeed in their educational journeys.
When Missy died on February 4, the news spread among the Ohio State students and alumni whom the couple helped. Among them: Weiler Scholars, nine Black men to date, whom the Weilers have supported with scholarships that renew each year until they graduate.
Each pledged to become a teacher by earning a degree from the College of Education and Human Ecology.
CJ Clardy, the first Weiler Scholar to graduate, grew up the eldest of 10 siblings in Youngstown, Ohio. He learned about special education while helping his younger brother with homework. Despite the fact that his brother had an accommodation for a learning disability, “If I approached him the right way, I found he made the same progress as other students,” Clardy said.
During the fourth of his five years at Ohio State, Clardy described to James L. Moore III his desire to become a special education teacher in an underserved school. Moore, the college’s Distinguished Professor of Urban Education and the university’s Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, offered Clardy a Weiler Scholarship.
That was 2015. Clardy said the financial award was important, but it was only one part of the support.
“When we would get together for a meal, (Missy) would say how important it is to have people like me, who’ve walked in those students’ shoes,” Clardy said. “She encouraged me to embrace the opportunity, because it’s so important to be an example for those students, to show them success is possible.”
Missy Weiler especially understood the value of early literacy, having dedicated four decades to tutoring children in reading. She faithfully went twice weekly to work with children at Ohio Avenue Elementary School, a Columbus City School.
“We connected on literacy because a lot of special education is improving reading skills,” Clardy said. “You can change a student’s life trajectory when you improve their literacy, because for many of them, the key to success is comprehending what they’re reading.”
Fulfilling a legacy: Uplifting lives through the power of education
After graduating from Ohio State, Clardy earned a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in special education. The recognized program hones the expertise of those who plan to continue teaching, which includes enhancing their ability to apply research.
He then taught special education for a year in Youngstown City Schools. He is proud to have contributed to improving the school’s state report card and helping the school move out of academic emergency. It was just what the Weilers envisioned.
Today, Clardy teaches special education at Pinckneyville Middle School, An International Baccalaureate World School in Norcross, Georgia. His students are diverse, including Blacks, Asians and Latinx.
He refuses to give up on his students, even when their behavior suggests they don’t want to succeed. One student was bright but often would not participate in schoolwork due to life struggles outside of the classroom.
“I would take the time to sit down, look into his eyes and say, ‘I have been there. I know what it’s like to be in that space. And I am not going to treat you like life doesn’t happen outside of my classroom.’ But I told him, ’It doesn’t change what’s in here,’” pointing to his head. “’And that’s going to take you farther than you ever imagined.’”
Clardy asked for the student’s best performance with every assignment, telling him he knew he was capable. “I also made sure he knew I was going to be a champion for him,” Clardy said. “I looked for ways to recognize him.”
Today the student is succeeding in a ninth-grade general education classroom. “My educational philosophy is rooted in uplifting and supporting, like Dr. Moore says. It’s about connecting opportunities to aspirations,” Clardy said.
In meeting the Weilers, Clardy said he recognized that they were very intentional about what they wanted to achieve. “I want to create the change they want to see.”
Gaining hands-on experience, preparing to serve
Ca’Marea Snipes-Thomas hails from Lorrain, Ohio, near Cleveland, and graduated from Horizons Science Academy. He initially chose to major in early childhood education in the college, but then switched to special education.
“I don’t really see a lot of people of color being advocates within special education,” Snipes-Thomas said. “I want to represent those students who don’t usually get the spotlight.” He also wants to be a role model, especially for Black-identifying students. “I want them to see a Black man as a leader in the school environment in this time,” he said.
Moore offered Snipes-Thomas a Weiler Scholarship in early 2020 while they were on a study abroad trip to the Bahia region of Brazil. Moore led the trip to expose Ohio State undergraduate and graduate students to educational access and equity challenges among Afro-Brazilians, which is similar to those of low-income and first-generation college students of color enrolled in American universities and colleges.
With Brazil still a developing nation, education is a pathway out of poverty for many. “One thing that stood out to me was how all of the students had this excitement about being at school,” Snipes-Thomas said. “Interacting with them inspired me. I’ll take that with me for my entire career.”
Now a junior, Snipes-Thomas juggles his job as a dorm resident advisor with his field placement working with the intervention specialist at Thomas Worthington High School. He is grateful for how the Weiler Scholarship has freed his time for his college program, especially the multiple field placements provided.
“I want to share my appreciation to the Weilers for helping fund my undergraduate career,” he said. Thanks to the Weilers, his job and other support, he will launch his teaching career with no college debt.
You, too, can contribute to the Robert and Missy Weiler Scholarship Fund – 314415 – to help Black men become teachers.