Scott Embacher ’01 wants to change the world. The elementary school teacher at St. Francis in Cleveland is accomplishing that one student at a time.
“Teaching is where I can make the biggest difference because education may be the highest form of dignity, as well as the biggest economic equalizer, a person can have,” he says.
St. Francis, which is located in one of the poorer and rougher parts of the city, appealed to Embacher.
“I wanted to go where they don’t just want me, but they need me,” he says. “I only had to go to one Mass and see the clapping, African dancing, drumming, and up-and-down-the- aisle preaching by Bishop Roger Gries to know this is a place full of life and inspiration.”
The Suffield, Ohio, native sees he’s making a difference at St. Francis, where students are educated in a safe and faith-infused environment.
“I remember when a student me out of the blue, ‘Mr. Embacher, I love you,’” he says. “I was startled because it was completely unexpected.”
Service is important to the education major, and he’s fortunate much of it is wrapped in his teaching. He coaches basketball, is the school’s athletic director, supervises the after- school program, moderates the Social Justice Club, and runs a tutoring program.
“Service isn’t part of my life, it is my life, and that’s what makes it so rewarding,” he says.
Embacher, who earned his master’s degree at Boston College through the Urban Catholic Teachers Corps, started The Club of the Distinguished Gentlemen at St. Francis, where students strive to define what it means to be a man. He developed a program in which, once a week for 12 weeks, students dress in suits. (Embacher teaches them how to tie a tie.) They examine attitudes; build teamwork; define values; practice listening and conversation skills, as well as business-setting skills; examine food and fitness regiments; have successful black male speakers; and study media about how black males are portrayed.
“This has been a powerful program,” he says. “A few months ago, we were invited to a reception in our honor at the top of the PNC building to have dinner with executives who gave additional advice about being successful in the business world.”
The South Euclid resident focuses on middle school because seventh and eighth grades are critical times during which youths are forming their identity and it’s easy to get caught up in street life. So Embacher helps them embrace the route of education and self betterment.
“It’s such a crossroad,” he says. “I’m trying to convince them the education route is the way to go, even if the payoff isn’t until years down the road.”
Two more examples show how Embacher is making a difference. While teaching in Boston, he helped a student who lost her father to cancer and her home to gentrification within a few months. The student’s mother spoke no English, and her father was a prisoner of war during Vietnam. The U.S. government relocated him to the U.S. after he sustained debilitating torture while imprisoned.
“I made connections and made sure she had housing and found generous donors to take care of her Catholic education,” he says. “After the donors couldn’t do it anymore, my wife (Audrey Balbaugh Embacher ’03) and I organized annual “celebrity” softball games to make sure she finished at the school where she began.”
Embacher, who originally wanted to practice law, stays in touch with this former student and counsels her through difficult times. She has visited Ohio twice, and Embacher went to her high school graduation. She graduated from college this past spring.
“She calls me her godfather and told me that when she gets married, she wants me to walk her down the aisle and give her away,” he says.
The other example is when Embacher received a voice mail a few months ago from the father of a former student. When the second-grade teacher of the young boy said he would probably fail, Embacher agreed to tutor the child after school.
“His dad thought the world of me because he offered me way too much money to tutor him, so I talked him down in price,” he says. “He never forgot this. The student passed second grade. The father said his son was now a 4.0 student and was taking summer classes at Harvard.”
The Jesuit philosophy is a role model for Embacher. When he heard about living one’s life for others and other Jesuit principles, it made sense to him and felt right.
“That philosophy, combined with friends who live it, is a potent combination that set my life in the right direction,” he says. “I have great people – starting with my wife – around me all the time who challenge me to be the best person I can be.” JCU
– John Walsh