Hans and Hageman, Ivan
Hans and Ivan Hageman
Hans and Ivan Hageman are prominent educators who wanted to bring the benefits of education to the underprivileged. They quit their successful careers and converted a building that once housed a residential drug rehabilitation center. It became the East Harlem School at Exodus House (EHSEH), an independent middle school for neighborhood children who are at risk. The Hageman brothers have created an educational oasis in a socially depressed area, using financial help from friends, community support, and, perhaps more important, a fierce conviction that kids from neighborhoods like East Harlem should have the same opportunities as kids from upscale neighborhoods. Not only is the EHSEH a highly successful local school, but it has become a model educational institution for the entire nation.
Hans and Ivan did not just decide to change their career paths overnight. From their parents, the brothers learned that one must make sacrifices to facilitate true change. Lynn Hageman, a white Methodist minister, met his wife-to-be, Leola, at a Paul Robeson concert in the early 1950s. When Lynn and Leola decided to wed, the church opposed the marriage because Leola was black, and even tried to bribe Lynn by offering him his choice of parish assignments if he called off the wedding. Nevertheless, the pair married and were consequently assigned to an East Harlem parish, where they eventually established an experimental drug rehabilitation program, Exodus House, which housed and counseled recovering drug addicts.
Lynn and Leola had three children: Erika, Hans, and Ivan. The family lived on the top floor of Exodus House, sharing holidays, birthdays, and recreational activities with the residents. During their childhood years, Hans and Ivan witnessed the dedication of their parents, as well as the perseverance and hard work that it took for the residents to overcome enormous obstacles and attain sobriety. For the Hageman children, it was like having a lot of older siblings who had lived through extreme hardships and profound life experiences—a very unusual extended family, indeed.
In an article in Parents In Charge, Ivan was quoted as saying, “My father is my hero. We’re very much modeling ourselves after him. My father lived out his faith every day. He taught us to find real joy in the accomplishments of others, in helping to make their lives feel worthwhile, giving them power and a sense of pride.” The brothers credit their mother for their love of books, adding that her extraordinary strength of character provided true inspiration. Leola was also very active in the community, working to create local school boards as well as a decentralization plan for the public schools. In the early 1980s Lynn Hageman became
Born Hans and Ivan Hageman; sons of Lynn (a Methodist minister) and Leola (a community activist) Hageman. Education: Hans: Princeton University, undergraduate degree; Columbia University Law School; Ivan: Harvard University, B.A. (cum laude), sociology, anthropology, M.A., education.
Career: Hans: Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, chief counsel; New York City District Attorney’s office, narcotics prosecutor; Thatcher, Proffit & Wood, attorney; EHSEH, director. Ivan: Janitor; personal trainer; bouncer; teacher; EHSEH, principal.
Address: Office —East Harlem School at Exodus House, 309 E. 103rd St., New York, NY 10029.
too ill to continue the drug program at Exodus House, and in 1983, in an effort to respond to the growing needs of the neighborhood children, Leola turned Exodus House into an educational facility offering after school and summer programs, thus planting the seeds for the East Harlem School.
The brothers, one year apart in age, were among the first African Americans to attend the prestigious Collegiate School in Manhattan, where they were classmates of the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. Years later, when Hans and Ivan needed financial support to start their school, Kennedy convinced the board members of the Robin Hood Foundation to donate money for the cause. At a Robin Hood Foundation Heroes Breakfast in December of 1998, just months before his tragic death in 1999, Kennedy said of the Hagemans, according to Round Up Online, “We all knew they were destined to do something important.”
Both brothers earned honors for their academic, athletic, and personal excellence, and received scholarships to Ivy League schools. Ivan studied sociology and anthropology at Harvard, earning his bachelor’s degree in three years. After college he spent time riding a motorcycle across the country, and worked as a bouncer at a bar and as a personal physical fitness trainer. He then found employment at Harvard—as a janitor. One day Ivan happened to have a long conversation with the dean while cleaning the dean’s office, whereupon the dean talked Ivan into enrolling in a graduate program at Harvard’s School of Education. After earning a master’s degree in education, Ivan taught at both public and private schools in New York.
Hans attended Princeton first and then transferred to Columbia University, where he earned a law degree. After several impressive but unfulfilling jobs, he taught a law class at a junior high school, an experience that made him look at his brother’s career choice with some interest. Hans told Charles Dubow, a writer for Forbes, “I worked for the U.S. Senate, was an associate at Thatcher, Proffit & Wood in New York and [was] a narcotics prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, but I wasn’t satisfied.” He explained to Jessica Seigel of Teacher magazine, “I had seen all of the law I had wanted to see. People were put into the system, but what happened to them once they were there? I was tired of seeing the same people come across the bar of justice.” Thus, the idea for an educational institution based on social justice was born when the brothers began evaluating their own career paths and educational backgrounds.
Exodus House, already an educational facility, was a likely place to begin. Ivan the teacher and Hans the lawyer became its principal and director. Initially, the Hageman brothers did not think they would be able to realize their dream. They were able to obtain financial and community support, but death threats from local gangsters and drug dealers became a serious problem. However, Hans and Ivan were undaunted; they donned bullet-proof vests and hired 24-hour security. The message to “back off” was loud and clear. East Harlem School at Exodus House, whose motto is “Competence With Character,” opened in 1993, with eight students in the fifth and sixth grades. The school soon expanded to include the eighth grade, and by the year 2000 their first students, who had started at EHSEH in 1993, were matriculating at college. By 2001 the school had 55 students and plans were made to expand the building to accommodate several boarders. EHSEH runs on an 11-month schedule and the students, who are required to adhere to a strict dress code, are in school ten hours a day and have about three hours of homework per day. Seigel quoted student Shelby Simpson: “You don’t want to get Ivan mad. When it comes to homework or disrespecting the class, he’s serious.” Many of the school’s graduates have received scholarships to private high schools or have been accepted at selective alternative schools.
Hans, who is responsible for fund raising, public relations, and field trips, also offers counseling and guidance. His responsibilities are far-reaching. He explained to Essence reporter Danya Steele, “For four years, I was the cook here. I cooked breakfast, lunch, and even sometimes stayed around for dinner, for those kids who, for whatever reason, wouldn’t have been able to get that at home.” Hans cooks vegetarian fare, and also teaches his students judo, a martial art that teaches the philosophy that sometimes, yielding to the opposition is the only way to win.
A project of such magnitude can obviously be totally consuming. Hans, who is separated from his wife, actually lives in the house, and Ivan, who is divorced, lives only blocks away. When they are not involved with activities in the school, they are seeking financial sources to keep the school going. Fortunately for the children living in East Harlem, good Samaritans such as Tom Brokaw, Paul Newman, and Linda Fiorentino donate regularly. As Dubow explained in Forbes, “The Hagemans have refused to accept public funding because they are leery of getting involved in the mare’s nest of local school board politics.”
In addition, the school has attracted other earnest people such as Mark Tashijian, who quit his job as vice president of a billion-dollar chemical company to become the math and science teacher at the school. Dubow quoted Tashijian as saying, “I walked in here one day to meet Hans and Ivan, thinking that I might get involved in some peripheral way, helping them to raise money or something, but when they asked what I wanted to do I found my self saying ‘I want to teach here.’ I couldn’t believe it but I knew that it felt right.” Of the Hagemans, Tashijian told Seigel, “They’re powerful personalities. They make the difference between this place and other schools. They’re powerful intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.” Hans told Dubow, “I have old friends of mine from college who keep asking me when I’m going to give this all up and get a real job. They don’t get it. This is it. This is what I want to do.”
Forbes, November 22, 1997.
People Weekly, February 28, 2000.
Teacher, October 1998.
East Harlem School at Exodus House, http://www.ehseh.com/information
Harlem Live, http://www.harlemlive.org
Home & Garden Television, http://www.hgtv.com
Parents in Charge, http://www.parentsincharge.org
Round Up Online, http://www.roundup.nmsu.edu
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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