Ms. Lopez Moves Brandon’s Seat

by Allan Appel | September 10, 2007 11:13 AM |

IMG_2501.JPGFifth-grader Brandon was experiencing some “issues” as he adjusted from last year’s home schooling to the demanding social and academic routines of Amistad Academy. The school called his parents, Fred and Susan Hogan, to come in. Ten minutes later, they were at the school’s offices.

Even for Amistad that was fast.

But a prompt response was expected. Amistad, the celebrated Fair Haven charter school, requires parents to sign a contract. It states that they must respond to such calls within 24 hours.

Math teacher and fifth-grade dean Teron McFadden (pictured below), who had made the call, met the Hogans in the lobby of the school. Brandon was sitting beside McFadden, Susan Hogan reported. McFadden let Brandon and his parents initiate the conference.

She turned to Brandon. “I said to him, ‘Brandon,’” recalled Susan Hogan, “‘why are we here?’

“‘I was silly, mom,’ he said. ‘I was, you know, doing a lot of talking.’

“‘Oh,’ I said to him. ‘Well, Brandon, just what are we going to do about it?’”

They had a long talk, then, about Brandon’s talkativeness, about the way other kids might follow that example. There was thought given to where in the classroom Brandon might sit. Brandon resolved to change his ways.

The Independent is following Brandon’s family and two others in New Haven this academic year to look at different ways schools involve parents.

IMG_2502.JPG“I think the purpose of that first conference, which happened on the second day of school,” Susan Hogan said, “was two purposes.

“First they want to make sure that the parents and the child are on the same page. And believe me, we are. Second, I think Mr. McFadden and the school want to see what kind of parents we are, how we respond.”

Before the first week of school wound down, the Hogans had received a call from Brandon’s math teacher that his skill levels were very good indeed in that area, but the chattiness was continuing. So they decided to visit the classroom.

On the day they arrived with a reporter, Friday, Brandon’s teacher, Amistad veteran Roxanna Lopez, was administering the first of the semester’s DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) tests to assess the kids’ different reading levels.

So, without disturbing the silence of the classroom, Ms. Lopez and the Hogans talked in the adjacent hallway about the issue and the seating arrangements.

IMG_2503.JPG“You know, ” said Lopez, “he’s going to be just fine. Lots of the fifth-graders have adjustment issues, academic or social. He’s very smart. It’s just, you know, coming out of home-schooling last year, and to have all these kids surrounding him, it’s so exciting.”

“Oh, I know,” said Susan Hogan. “He picks up the gift of gab from his mother.” Susan Hogan is a pastor and Brandon’s father Fred is a minister at the Faith Tabernacle Ministries in Hamden. “Every night since you called, we hold Brandon’s hands and we pray aloud with him. We pray that he will heed these recommendations and give him focus.”

“And the other thing to work on,” Lopez suggested, “is the details. He’s a big-picture kid, but sometimes he forgets the nitty-gritty. For example, yesterday I asked the kids to double-check their class work. That means that before they turn it in, their name must be properly spelled. Not ‘Brandon H.,’ for example, but the whole name. And it must be on the right side of the paper. Right side, and not the left. Well, Brandon did his work, and well, but he forgot to put his name on the paper.”


“Exactly,” said Lopez. “You see we’ve moved his seat up front, but I think it’s too close to the board. What do you think of his sitting in a chair by himself for a while?”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

The teacher and the parents compromised after some further talk. Brandon’s seat was going to be moved into the middle of the room, smack dab in the social action. However, it was also to be the seat closest to the overhead projector, where Ms. Lopez usually stands.

“It’s just like church,” Susan said, “where you want to give leadership to people, independence, but they still need looking after. It’s just right.”

IMG_2504.JPGFred Hogan asked when they as parents would learn the results of the DRPs. Lopez explained that the results would come within three weeks. That would be part of a much larger discussion in five weeks when the first parental conferences take place around the first marking period.

Susan Hogan returned the subject of the conference. “You know the speaking out loud,” she said. “That also might come from a family pattern. At home, we encourage him to read the Bible out loud, and when he was being home-schooled, well, of course, there was no one else there for him to disturb.”

“I wouldn’t worry at all about it,” said Lopez. “Many of the kids make an adjustment. They’re all working now on earning their Amistad shirts. They start each week with 100 scholar dollars, and for each infraction of behavior or academic failing, they lose some dollars. A certain minimum is required for the shirt. In this first period about half the kids earn the shirts, and half don’t. The kids are learning the value of effort.”

“Oh, I know he’s trying,” said Susan. “He’s an honest child, a candid, forthright child who knows exactly what’s going on. Sometimes even too bluntly honest! He knows that he’s a … what do you call it … a social bee, charismatic. He’s aware of himself.”

“Of course. That plays to a strength at Amistad, because we are always asking the kids to evaluate themselves. Did they disturb with what they said? Should scholar dollars be deducted? And so forth.”

“Have you noticed my ‘PSH’ next to his homework?” Susan asked. “That means ‘passed by Susan Hogan,’ so we’re on his case about the homework. But he has most of it finished before he comes home.”

“That’s because, as you know, between 3:15 and 5, they are in study hall doing it, and the scholar dollars matter there too, in everything.”

“We talked,” said Fred, “and I think he wants to take up the violin here.”

IMG_2505.JPG“That’ll be great,” said Lopez. “And there are all kinds of music opportunities in the Encore program too, the activities after school, music, drama, sports. They’ll start up in a few weeks, but it’s for kids who have their homework under control. He will. Brandon’s very smart. Just an adjustment period.”

Susan got Brandon’s attention briefly across the room. He was taking his test, and she didn’t want to disturb. Then she and Fred left.

“I told him we were going to be in school, just to let him know,” she said. “Compared to Vincent Mauro [School], where they practically had to give me a key, this participation is light so far. In part because I so approve of what the teachers are doing for him. Ms McKinley, the math teacher, and Ms. Lopez, and Mr. McFadden.”

Did they find any of the requirements too strict, especially in the light of home schooling?

“Our home is tough. And our church life is regimented too. No, this is just right for him. It’s just like the values we have at home, but among other children. I’d rather he learn early how to put his name always on the right side of the paper when he’s asked. Much better,” she said with some irony, “that he learn it here rather than in the army, or in prison! I like this school. Where he was before they didn’t care where or how he wrote his name.”

McFadden said that of the 75 incoming fifth-graders at Amistad, maybe 10 or 15 kids had their parents called in during the first week for various easons.

IMG_2499.JPGWithin the context of its broad goals proclaimed in acronymed “REACH” banners outside and inside (for Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship, Hard work), Amistad sweats the small things, so that the big things go easier. The school aims to insure the incoming kids follow the routines immediately.

How has it gone with the other parents?

“Some are great like you,” McFadden had told the Hogans. “With others, the parents give me an excuse why they can’t come in, and suddenly I’m a teacher and social worker not only with the kids, but with the parents.”

“Well, you have my cell number,” Hogan said to McFadden as he disappeared down the first- floor hall to deal with another “issue.”

“Yes,” he said over his shoulder, “and my phone is always in my pocket. Hey, I love what I’m doing.”

For previous installments in the Independent’s series on parental involvement in local schools, click on:

Night-Shift Waitress Gets Xena To Class On Time

Dad Marked Present

Fifth-Graders Get “Amistadized”

Board of Ed To Parents: Get Involved!

Sumrall Looks To Parents

Task Force Hones Plan for Kids

The New St. Martin DePorres Comes Home

Parents Graduate

Parents Hit the Books

“Parent Power” Hits The Park

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