Just one week before starting her first-ever day of school, Beyonce Gesel Calle Puma got a knock on the door, a book to read, and some help finding a shirt and skirt for a new school uniform.
Beyonce, who’s 4, is heading to kindergarten next Thursday at the Fair Haven School.
Her family got a knock on the door Tuesday as volunteers spread out across the city for a kindergarten “canvass”—a new volunteer effort by the city, school district, United Way and New Haven Promise to help parents prepare for school. On Tuesday, the second day of the campaign, 58 parents, teachers, principals and other volunteers knocked on 394 doors and made contact with 154 families, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith.
Volunteers met at the Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet School to pick up information packets and maps showing kindergartners’ homes. Then, like vote-pullers on Election Day, they set out for their “turfs.”
Fair Haven School sent eight teachers and administrators into the neighborhood around 5 p.m.
Teacher Martina Ramos (at left with Assistant Principal Jaime Ramos, no relation) set out hoping to meet some students in her class. Next week, she’ll start her second year teaching kindergarten at Fair Haven School; she was eager to meet her new pupils and their families.
Martina, who attended Fair Haven School as a kid, now lives in Newhallville.
“I haven’t been on this street in so long,” she remarked as she turned onto Fillmore Street, where she used to live. Jaime stopped to bump fists with two girls he had taught. Mary Rosario, a parent leader and longtime teacher in the schools, hugged a former student who is now sending two kids to the public schools.
At around 6 p.m., the trio stopped in front of Beyonce’s Chatham Street home. They tried to open the gate, but found it padlocked. Jaime got out his cell phone and dialed the family.
“Could you let us in the door?” he asked in Spanish.
Martina, an African-American who married a Puerto Rican, speaks only some Spanish; Jaime, who’s Puerto Rican, served as the Spanish-speaking ambassador. They were directed around the side of the house. Ramos and Ramos climbed up the stairs.
Inside, Beyonce’s parents pulled out folding chairs in the kitchen and made the visitors at home.
Mom Ruth Puma (pictured) sat them down at a table under a wreath of flowers and a pendant from her native Ecuador.
Jaime Ramos, who recently transferred from Wilbur Cross, introduced himself as the new assistant principal at Fair Haven School.
He ran through a few questions to see if he could help Beyonce prepare for school. Puma said her daughter has never been to school before. She can speak English and Spanish, but she hasn’t yet learned to count or write.
Do you know about the school uniforms? Ramos asked.
Puma said no.
All students have to wear white polo shirts and blue pants or skirts, Ramos explained. To demonstrate the term “polo,” he took off his white BOOST! T-shirt and revealed a short-sleeved, collared shirt, just like the one Beyonce will need.
Beyonce can choose if she’d like to wear pants or a faldita, a little skirt, Ramos said.
Mom decided her daughter would be most comfortable in a skirt with shorts underneath. Ramos suggested she head to Wal-Mart for a good deal.
Puma paused. She told her visitors that she’s currently unemployed. Could the school help provide clothes and notebooks?
Ramos translated the request to Martina Ramos.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got you hooked up!” the teacher replied.
She made a note to connect the family to the school’s closet of extra uniforms. Martina Ramos had a hunch there would be plenty in Beyonce’s size. She knew that because she had just donated her own daughter’s uniform clothes after she outgrew them.
After a filling in Puma on orientation day and the right type of shoes to wear for gym (closed-toe, like Ms. Ramos’), the visitors delivered their gifts.
They handed over a packet of information including a copy of “La Oruga Muy Hambrienta,” a Spanish translation of the kids’ classic, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
A packet also included a Spanish version of “The ABC’s of School Readiness”; a fridge magnet with important phone numbers; a library card application; and a book describing the “ART of School Success.” The ART stands for “Attending school regularly, Reading together for 20 minutes every day, and Talking to your kids every day.”
Puma welcomed the advice and the help with the uniform. She said she hadn’t been able to buy any back-to-school supplies for her daughter.
Beyonce won’t be in Martina Ramos’ classroom, but her mom directed her to meet the visitors so she’ll see two familiar faces at school.
Asked how she feels about heading to school, Beyonce smiled shyly. Puma predicted she may miss her mom at first.
“Don’t worry, she’ll get used to it,” assured Martina Ramos.
By the end of the night, Team Ramos and Rosario made contact with five of the 12 families on their list. Those who weren’t home got a campaign-style door-hanger with a phone number to call.
Between Tuesday and a first outing Saturday, volunteers have knocked on 1,045 doors and made contact with 419 families, according to schools spokeswoman Smith.
Organizers plan to head out Thursday for one final canvass. It’s not too late to volunteer; click here for more information.