She Made Time To Get Off Work

by Paul Bass | November 30, 2009 12:02 PM | | Comments (3)

DSCN6393.JPGschoolreformlogo.jpgMaritza Bond had to shuffle her schedule and crisscross the state to make it to Mekhai and Markel’s school in the middle of a work day. In her view, it made a difference.

Her boys were receiving certificates at a 2 p.m. ceremony the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at Davis Street 21st Century Magnet School for earning high honors in the first marking period.

Bond (at right in photo) already commutes to Jewett City and then drives around Connecticut to appointments each for her day job at a community-health outfit called AHEC. She had already shown up at the school a week earlier for report card night. But she considered making another trip an essential part of her other job — the parent job.

Bond still remembers when her grandmother and aunt showed up at Clinton Avenue School more than 20 years ago to watch her receive an award.

“The kids work so hard,” she said. “When parents support them, it makes them want to work hard.”

DSCN6355.JPGA lot of other Davis parents felt the same way. The K-5 school was presenting honors and high honors certificates to 42 students; 110 people ended up filling all the folding chairs and cramming into the corners of the rotunda where the ceremony took place. All but three of the 42 honored students had parents and/or grandparents in the room.

The grown-ups rose to snap photos when it came their children’s turn to shake hands with Principal Lola Nathan and other administrators as they received their “certificate of excellence.”

At a time when educators are struggling with how to lure parents into their children’s school buildings — and involve them in their children’s learning — last week’s ceremony was the latest indication that Davis has hit on some answers.

The quest for parent involvement is a central part of an ambitious school reform drive getting underway in New Haven. In some ways the city will be looking to replicate at other schools some of the successes at Davis (where the Independent is checking in during a transitional year). Those successes range from higher test scores to “Comer Method” social-skills work to high parent involvement and creative leadership from Principal Lola Nathan.

Nathan’s approach has caught the eye of Garth Harries, the new assistant schools superintendent in charge of the reform drive. Harries dropped in recently on a morning coffee gathering for parents featuring student performances. Harries thought the event was a good way to bring parents into the school and was impressed by the way Nathan deferred to a parent leader to address the group.

“Some of the things [Nathan] does, other schools may be able to pick up and adapt for their purposes,” Harries said: — scheduling regular events for parents; creating roles for parents to take leadership of the events; and having parents working in the school.

Davis has developed an enviable record in involving parents. And grandparents.

Report card night in mid-November drew 80 percent of the school’s parents. The others are “getting a letter,” Nathan said afterwards.

Then came “grandparents’ night.” Two hundred showed up. In some cases grandparents, not moms or dads, raise New Haven schoolchildren. But many of the Davis grandparents don’t; Nathan wants them in the building anyway.

So when it came time to plan last Tuesday’s daytime honors ceremony, the school merely sent home one notice. It got the high turnout without needing extra phone calls.

That’s because the key to luring parents into the building doesn’t involve intensive outreach for one event, in Nathan’s view. It involves establishing an atmosphere in which parents feel welcomed, valued. It involves relentless efforts to engage parents day to day, including inviting them to special events. Davis parents are also brought in to consult on individual academic improvement plans as teachers track each student’s progress on standardized tests.

Nathan makes a point to sit down with every new parent each year. She strikes up conversations when they pick up kids. She discovers their interests — and how they can pitch in at the school.

DSCN6407.JPGShe found out, for instance, that Karen Close runs a dance studio in Milford. Close (pictured with Nathan) made it last Tuesday to see her fourth-grader Cassidy pick up an honors certificate. Cassidy’s grandmother came, too.

Afterward Nathan sat down with Close to firm up plans for a new after-school dance program at Davis. Close has agreed to teach it.

She welcomed being drafted, she said. She used to volunteer at Cassidy’s old school, in Ansonia, where the family lives. Despite her regular presence there, “I could walk through the school, and nobody knew who I was.” She went shopping for a new school. After witnessing the family-like community feel at Davis, she concluded it made sense for both her daughter, and her, to schlep there from Ansonia.

DSCN6390.JPGMaritza Bond made the same decision. The Bonds, too, live in Ansonia. Like Close, Cassidy felt the schools there weren’t working for her sons, and was excited by what she saw happening at Davis. The parent-friendly vibe in turn lures new active parents like them to the school.

The Bonds stress education at home. On top of her day job, Maritza is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at UConn. Both parents involve themselves in their sons’ education at home as well as at school, both their academic and extracurricular pursuits. They considered Davis the right school for their sons partly because of its strong music program; Mekhai likes the trumpet and plays in the band. To make high honors, sixth-grader Mekhai (pictured) needed to work more at math. Mom drove him on the weekends to New Haven Reads on Ashmun Street, where he received tutoring. Dad, a 411 operator at AT&T, helped out with math homework, too. (He’s the more math-oriented member of the couple, according to Maritza.)

Mekhai needed less help on reading. He picks up a book on his own whenever he has the chance. He especially likes mysteries.

Mekhai, a poised, thoughtful 11-year-old, said he welcomed the help with math. “Math is one of the main subjects in life,” he reasoned. “I need to be more knowledgeable in math.”

For high honors, students needed to earn all As in reading, writing, math, social studies, and science in the first marking period. Mekhai was proud to receive his certificate. And he was proud mom saw him get it.

Previous stories about Davis Street 21st Century Magnet School:

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

Some previous stories about New Haven’s school reform drive:

Report Card Night Revamped
Parents Challenged To Join Reform Drive
Where Do Bad Teachers Go?
Reform Committees Set
Mayo Extends Olive Branch
School Board Makes Mom Cry
Next Term Will Determine Mayor’s Legacy
Reading Target Set: 90% By February
Teacher Pact Applauded; Will $$ Follow?
Mayor “Not Scared” By $100M
Useful Applause: Duncan, AFT Praise City
Reformer Moves Inside
After Teacher Vote, Mayo Seeks “Grand Slam”
Will Teacher Contract Bring D.C. Reward?
What About The Parents?
Teachers, City Reach Tentative Pact
Philanthropists Join School Reform Drive
Wanted: Great Teachers
“Class of 2026” Gets Started
Principal Keeps School On The Move
With National Push, Reform Talks Advance
Nice New School! Now Do Your Homework
Mayo Unveils Discipline Plan
Mayor Launches “School Change” Campaign
Reform Drive Snags “New Teacher” Team
Can He Work School Reform Magic?
Some Parental Non-Involvement Is OK, Too
Mayor: Close Failing Schools
Union Chief: Don’t Blame The Teachers
3-Tiered School Reform Comes Into Focus
At NAACP, Mayo Outlines School Reform
Post Created To Bring In School Reform
Board of Ed Assembles Legal Team

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Posted by: mary | November 30, 2009 7:00 PM

Lola Nathan you know the personal touch is the way to go.You are the best.!!!!!!!!

Posted by: working (too hard)mom | November 30, 2009 9:24 PM

Looks like Davis Street is giving that other Westville magnet school a run for its money in academic areas as well as parent involvemement....It's nice to hear about successful schools in New Haven besides the two crown jewels of which everyone speaks so highly.

Posted by: teachergal | December 1, 2009 5:17 PM

Hmmmmmmmmmm....Davis again.....Lola, share you magic with the rest of your colleagues please.

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