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Teachers Spend Vacation ... Teaching

by Paul Bass | Feb 19, 2010 12:06 pm

(6) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, Davis Street School, School Reform

Paul Bass Photo schoolreformlogo.jpgFallon Daniels had this week off. So she went to work.

She didn’t get paid. But she did what usually does on weekdays—teach kids science.

She usually does it at Co-op High School. Like other public schools, Co-op was closed this week for February vacation.

But Davis St. 21st Century Magnet School, where Daniels’ son Elijah attends kindergarten, was open.

Technically it was “camp” week at Davis. The principal, Lola Nathan, pulled in volunteers, teachers, and parents to make it happen, so that 55 third through sixth-graders wouldn’t just sit home letting their minds rot watching the Cartoon Network.

Nathan approached Daniels (at right in top photo) one recent afternoon when she was picking up Elijah after school.

“I’m doing this CMT camp,” Nathan told her. “I want to do science.”

Daniels replied without missing a beat.

“I’m on it.”

So on Wednesday morning Daniels (pictured above) was in Room 213 of the school’s temporary Legion Avenue home. She had teams of boys and girls measuring how quickly they could catch a dropped ruler. They were evaluating an experiment they way they’ll be asked to next month when they take Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs), statewide standardized exams of student performance.

New Haven government leaders have recently launched an ambitious “school change” reform drive aimed at transforming the struggling public schools into one of the nation’s best systems. Davis’ CMT camp offers another example of how the school has already discovered some of the answers in the quest for reform. The answers have as much to do with parents as they do with test scores—and with an experienced principal who makes the connection.

The Independent has been checking in at Davis periodically this academic year to report on the school’s innovations.

While CMTs are only part of what the three-day camp was about at Davis this week. But it was an important part. The public schools have been under pressure to post better test scores on the statewide standardized exams. Davis has helped lead the way: It has shown sharp improvement the past few years and eliminated the racial achievement gap. (Read about that here.) During this week’s CMT camp, students spent hours working on math problems, reading stories and figuring out narrative lines, and designing science experiment variables. All those activities were geared to the kinds of questions they’ll encounter on this year’s tests.

They also played tennis in the gym and swam in the Career High pool next door. Some learned chess or danced with instructor Sharece Sellem. They had meals together and planned an outing to TGIF restaurant.

The camp was not mandatory; 55 students chose to sign up.

Principal Nathan (pictured) said she didn’t want the kids’ brains turning to mush in the middle of the school year.

“When they’re on vacation, especially February, the kids are home,” she said. “They’re just sitting, looking at the television. Kids sometimes get so bored. They might be sad at home; parents might be working two jobs. It can affect their self-esteem. Here they can dance. They can play tennis.”

To pull it off, Nathan had to get creative. She didn’t push teachers to forgo their February break. But she did ask them, and a few agreed to. So did some staffers.

Then she turned to the parents. Nathan makes a point of meeting with the parents of every new student at Davis, and figuring out ways to involve them in the school.

That paid off during CMT camp. In addition to Fallon Davis, Medria Ellis, an assistant principal at Edgewood School, volunteered to teach English; she has two children at Davis.

Marcus Watson (pictured) already teaches sixth-grade math at Davis.

He wasn’t a teacher when his daughter Teresa enrolled in kindergarten at the school. He was selling securities. “It was good money, but at the end of the day, I didn’t do anything worthwhile,” he said.

Nathan got to work on him right away after he enrolled his daughter. She had him tutoring students. Then subbing. Then attending district math meetings. He got his teaching certificate; he landed a job at Katherine Brennan School last year. When Davis expanded from a K-5 to a K-6 school this year, Nathan scooped him back to the building. He know has two children attending the school. Teresa is in third grade. He enlisted in CMT camp and got a chance to teach fourth graders for a change.

Nathan even called on a Davis alum, Faye Reed (at left in photo, helping Davis student Taricka Lee). Reed is now a high-school senior at Amistad, planning to study computer engineering in college. She remembers her time at Davis fondly. “I just loved the place. We had fun,” she said. Recently Faye and her mom bumped into Nathan at the Milford mall. Mom told Nathan that Faye needed a job. Soon she was working in Davis’s after-school program.

Reed was getting paid for helping out with CMT camp. So were the Davis teachers and staff who worked during the CMT camp. Parents came in for free, even the ones that teach in other schools.

“She’s always here on time. That’s what I like,” Nathan said of Faye. “All business. She’s here like clockwork.”

Faye helped Fallon Daniels work through the dropping ruler experiments in Room 213.

The kids tested a question: Do boys or girls grab a dropped ruler faster? They drew up rules, or “variables”: Sit down. Elbows rest on legs. No talking.

They each conducted the experiment three times.

Reed lent Rupert Bennett and Terron Williams (pictured) her iPod Touch to use as a stopwatch.

But when it came time to averaging the results, the tool of choice was a plain old pencil.

“i don’t want you to use a calculator,” Fallon Daniels told the boys. “I want you to use your brain. You can’t rely on a calculator.”

The boys calculated an average of 0.69 seconds. Pretty fast—but not fast enough to beat the girls, who averaged 0.44.

After this week, Daniels plans to return with some of her Co-Op High students. She wants them to mentor the Davis kids in science.

“We’re going to get them for high school. So we want to build up their skills now,” she explained.

And make it fun in the process.

Previous stories about Davis Street 21st Century Magnet School:

Achievement Gap Obliterated
She Made Time To Get Off Work
Reading Target Set: 90% By February
Principal Finds A Place For “Magic”
Comer Is Back
Davis Kids Examine Apathy & Genocide
Principal Keeps School On The Move
Pot Melts
So Long, Old Davis
Music History Steps Offstage
Music Video Of The Week

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posted by: mary rosario on February 19, 2010  12:53pm

Lola you are the best!!!!!!Your staff,parents,kids are truly a school reform model.It takes a committed city,a love for children to inspire a great school,you win hands down.Keep up the good work.!!!!!!!!!!!

posted by: RichTherrn on February 19, 2010  2:29pm

-And the kids will remember their break as the time they learned fun science! Thank you to Ms. Daniels, and Ms Nathan, and all the volunteers.
I will also point out that when I did this same activity (that WILL be on the 5th grade CMT science test) with principals, Ms Nathan had the fastest reaction time!
Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Steve Roberts on February 19, 2010  3:05pm

Wow…this is why I left corporate work to become a teacher 8 years ago. I teach physics at a high powered HS in Westport, but you guys just put us to shame with the way you approach education. Bravo to you and to all the parents, volunteers and the kids themselves.

I live in Branford, so if you do this again and could use help from a nearby teacher, shoot me an email…I would love to be a small part of what you have going on there.

posted by: Josiah Brown on February 19, 2010  3:09pm

This article offers another helpful glimpse at what Davis Street and other schools are doing to propel their communities of teachers and learners, through a combination of higher expectations and an array of supports.

Congratulations to Lola Nathan and her team of colleagues, students, and families.

Regarding the parent volunteers, it happens that Fallon Daniels—as a science teacher at Co-op H.S.—is a Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Representative for her school.  This year, she was one of 9 Co-op teachers to apply to the Institute.  She will be participating in a seminar on “Renewable Energy” led by Gary BrBroderickf the Yale Chemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry faculty. 

In 2009, she participated in an Institute seminar on “Evolutionary Medicine,” led by Yale evolutionary biologist (and NHPS parent) Paul E. Turner.

The curriculum unit Fallon Daniels developed last year was on “Human Population’s Response to Re-emerging and Emerging Infectious Diseases”
http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/guides/2009/5/09.05.02.x.html

Another NHPS parent was among the Fellows in that seminar: math teacher Kathleen Rooney of Career H.S., who developed a unit on “West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease: Making Sense of the Numbers”
http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/guides/2009/5/09.05.06.x.html

This year, Kathleen Rooney—a Representative for her school—is one of 4 applicants from Career H.S. to the Institute.  She will be developing a math curriculum unit on “Comparing Credit and Lending Plans.”

Back to Davis: parent Medria Blue-Ellis (now assistant principal of Edgewood School) is also a two-time Teachers Institute Fellow.  For example, she developed a curriculum unit on “Langston Hughes: Artist and Historian”
http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1996/1/96.01.02.x.html

This is among the numerous teacher-developed Institute units related to Black History Month, discussed in Allan Appel’s February 11 NHI article about an exhibition at Troup School, and in subsequent comments:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/barack_who/

posted by: Alphonse Credenza on February 19, 2010  4:34pm

An excellent example for the children.  Delighted to see it.

posted by: Julian Grayson on February 22, 2010  1:41am

I wish Jepson Magnet was as good as Davis. But… administrators who look the other way at rampant bullying. Good parents are leaving and good teachers will do so too soon.

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