Fallon 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