Tracey Davis-Massey might be the oldest person ever named as New Haven’s Student of the Month. She’s 45 years old, and she’s two months away from finally completing high school.
Superintendent Carol Birks has made celebrations of student achievement a fixture of almost every Board of Education meeting. Students have danced, recited poems, given speeches, and played the drums and violin, sometimes just before contentious votes. And they have shaken hands with the board members and received plaques for their achievements in class.
The parents usually look on proudly, often with tears welling in their eyes. But at Tuesday night’s meeting at Celentano School, one of those parents was honored for the first time.
Almost three decades ago, Davis-Massey dropped out of her South Carolina high school to give birth to her first child. As she raised four kids, she didn’t find the time to go back.
Until last year. “The time is now,” Davis-Massey decided. She enrolled at the New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center last September.
Since then Davis-Massey has taken classes in criminal justice, history and art, including a few at Gateway Community College. She’s now planning to don a cap and gown next spring, right at the same time as her youngest will also be graduating from Wilbur Cross.
“I get to express myself. It’s like I get to feel again. I get to go back to my childhood,” Davis-Massey said after the meeting ended. “It gives me so much hope at the end of the day. It makes me a better person to know that I’m not in this alone.”
Michelle Bonora took over as Adult Ed’s principal last year. Right away, she instituted a “No Excuses” campaign, spreading a message throughout New Haven that there’s nothing to stop adults from getting their high school diploma.
Knocking on doors, riding on buses and tabling in front of school buildings, the Adult Ed team talks up the wraparound services and the dedicated staff that help navigate the challenges students face in their second go-round at high school education.
Davis-Massey said she feels that she has the “biggest support team” at Adult Ed to keep her motivated. In turn, she’s tried to give that support back to her younger classmates who are dealing with problems that she’s faced over the years.
Davis-Massey said she’ll have enough credits for her high-school equivalency by December. But she added that she doesn’t think she’s done with her education. She’s set her sights on a four-year college, then a master’s degree in social work. After her two brothers took their own lives, she wants to counsel others in suicide prevention.
The board members seemed touched by Davis-Massey’s story, commenting on it throughout the night, especially after reviewing the latest standardized test scores that show barely one-fifth of elementary school students are on grade level in math.
“One of the things that makes me proud about New Haven is that we will educate you from the time you are 3 years old all the way up to adulthood,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “It is never too late to become someone who can contribute and someone who can be educated.”