Brennan/Rogers, which comprises Katherine Brennan and Clarence Rogers schools on Wilmot Road, is the first in-house turnaround school as part of New Haven’s new citywide reform drive. Now it’s gaining new resources, and a new focus, as it tries to lift out of a “failing school” category.
On Oct. 1, Brennan/Rogers became a federally recognized as a magnet school, according to David Thomas, a spokesman from the federal Department of Education. The school will get a half-million-dollar planning grant this year to transition into an intradistrict magnet school (meaning students from throughout the city are eligible to attend). The money comes from a three-year, $9.8 million federal Magnet School Assistance Program grant awarded to the city school district last week. That grant will be spread between four separate schools.
Brennan/Rogers, which serves 390 students in grades K to 8, will be the city’s 18th magnet school. Like the others, it will focus on a theme.
The school’s theme will be “communications and media,” said Principal Karen Lott.
The grant will provide for some new equipment to create an environment where “when students come to school, they have the opportunity to interface with technology.”
Lott applied for magnet school status before the school was dubbed a “turnaround.” The details of how the two efforts will be combined are still being hashed out.
Lott laid out a vision of what the tech-savvy school might look like: It could have its own broadcast studio, where students can report news, create videos and record audio in a quiet place. Older students might record instructional podcasts with information they’d like younger students to know. Students videotape their learning, and maybe even set up a videoconference with a sister school.
One goal, she said, is to hear more of students’ voices in the school. Another goal: boost oral language skills, and therefore, test scores.
Based mostly on Connecticut Mastery Test scores for grades 3 to 8, Brennan/Rogers earned the lowest ranking when the city placed an initial batch of schools into three tiers in March. For example, on the 2009 test, only 20 percent of students scored “at goal” on reading, and 14 percent “at goal” in writing, compared with 37 and 35 percent citywide. Lott said the low scores came “because of a lack of oral language skills.”
Recording student voices on video and audio, and sharing them with other students, will help boost those skills, Lott argued.
She said she’d likely be bringing in more equipment to let students do that—equipment such as the MacBook that teacher Jennifer Dauphinais pulled out Wednesday afternoon during a meeting of the Broadcasting Club. Seven girls and one boy in the third and fifth grades attend the club, which will focus on audio and video production.
Dauphinais (pictured at the top of this story), a co-teacher in a third grade classroom, is known around town as Jenn D., a visual artist, singer, songwriter, poet and musician. She also wrote art and music reviews for the New Haven Advocate.
She teamed up to lead the club with fifth-grade teacher Tania Nicole Williams (pictured), an R&B and reggae artist known as Chyna Nicole, who spent 10 years working in radio. Both were part of a slew of new teachers who joined Brennan/Rogers this fall as staff launched an ambitious plan to turn around the low-performing school.
On Wednesday, the duo opened the club meeting by sharing some of their own work from radio. Williams shared a clip from an interview with Percy Sledge from when she was a host at 93.5 FM in New York City. She also hosted a radio show in Jamaica, where her family is from, on the popular station IRIE FM. Dauphinais played a clip from an interview from a WYBC radio program she co-hosted with Craig Gilbert, “That Hour-long Music Show Hour.”
The teachers Wednesday modeled radio commercials. They helped students write their own and say them out loud before the group.
Then Dauphinais showed what the next step will be—recording those commercials, and setting them to music. She opened up her personal MacBook to show the class. She outlined how the students will use the built-in microphone in the MacBook to record their voices, then play them back and add music using a program called GarageBand.
“You’re able to hear yourself. For the first few minutes, it’s a little bit weird” to listen to your own voice, she said. “Then after a while, you get into the rhythm.”
(Click on the play arrow to watch.)
Dauphinais said that program on her MacBook was what helped her break out on her own as a singer-songwriter after drumming and backup-singing in other people’s bands. In the past few years, she recorded two solo albums under the artist name Pony Bird using the MacBook, she said.
She took those tools with her when she transitioned into teaching. Last year, as an assistant teacher at the Side By Side charter school in South Norwalk, she put together a storybook with her students, complete with illustrations—then helped students create an audiobook to accompany it. The audiobook was a hit—it helped the students, who spoke English as a second language, gain confidence in their language skills, she said. The whole project was done using GarageBand.
“Once kids get a hold of it,” she said, “it’s simple.”
Dauphinais said as the school shifts its focus to the media/communications theme, she’s looking forward to using more tools with students, including podcasts, blogs, and Wikis.
She’s still making art and performing with Pony Bird, but she’s glad to have a new place to focus her creative energy.
“I never was going to be famous at one of these things,” she said, “but it’s fun to get the kids fired up about it.”
Past stories on the Brennan/Rogers School: