When Desi Nesmith was appointed principal of SAND school last spring, he knew getting acquainted with the community was a priority. He wanted parents to know him and his plans for their neighborhood school that had been redesigned with a strong literacy focus using Americaís Choice theme with the Readersí and Writersí Workshop. So he walked the neighborhood, knocking on doors and introducing himself to neighbors and neighboring institutions.
The response was positive. Parent involvement is a priority at SAND. Resources such as a public library branch located within the school, an active family resource center on site, and a long-time tutoring partnership with neighboring Union Baptist Church help make families feel welcome in the school.
He also had the task of actively recruiting a new staff as part of the redesign. Three of the teachers he hired are Teach for America teachers, now in their second year of the TFA program in Hartford.
Bradís Beat had contacted Edna Novak, Executive Director of TFA Connecticut asking for a recommendation of a school with outstanding TFA staff and she had suggested SAND.
Teach for America began in1989, recruiting top college graduates who demonstrate academic achievement, leadership, and a commitment to expanding opportunities for children from low-economic urban school districts. TFA has become increasingly popular among college graduates. In 2009 35,000 candidates applied with only 15 percent ultimately being accepted. Two years of service are required, though many remain in teaching or related educational careers long after their required service. In the summer before beginning their service all TFA candidates undergo intense professional development that includes emphasis on classroom management training and practice teaching. In Connecticut they receive teacher certification credentials under the Alternate Route legislation provisions. Each is assigned a TFA program manager who assists and provides training in addition to that provided by the school district. Hartford currently employs 70 TFA teachers and is responsible for their salaries and benefits.
Bradís Beat visit to SAND included an opportunity to visit the TFA teachersí classes. As we entered Jennifer Frazierís second grade class, students were given a final few minutes to study their spelling words. Notes were collected and the teacher began dictating the words, using them in a sentence to strengthen their meaning. As the answers were collected, Ms. Frazier said ďGive yourself a pat on the back,Ē one of the many positive words of encouragement she gave to students in praise of their participation and behavior.
Students then gathered on the floor to hear her read from Patches, Lost and Found. As part of the literacy focus students were asked to predict what might happen as the story progressed. They also were asked to make connections to their own experience. The students were quick to volunteer their answers to the questions, and words of praise from the teacher reinforced their responses.
These were familiar questions, insuring that students understood what was being read to them, and also to ask of themselves as they were reading. Even after students are able to read or decode the words, they may not comprehend what they are reading. These questions reinforce comprehension or understanding what they are reading. Parents are encouraged to ask similar questions when their children read to them.
The classroom also included several computers equipped with the new Waterford Reading program, purchased with some of Hartfordís federal stimulus dollars. While some children were in a small group for individual attention from the teacher, and others were in teams reading aloud to each other, some were at the computers with headsets guiding them through a series of literacy activities. The computer documents each childís progress, so the teacher can review the data on each child, and note areas of their strengths and weakness.
Second grade teacher Stephanie Casey and Third grade teacher Carly Paine are also TFA teachers on the SAND staff. Hartford has the highest number of TFA participants staying on for their year, and these three teachers have expressed their desire to do so. With a new strong dedicated staff, principal Desi Nesmith and Assistant Principal Donna Wellins expect to see growth in the CMT results.
Readers are encouraged to watch the Bradís Beat program on SAND school and Teach for America on Hartford Public Access TV, channel 95 on Wednesdays at 3:00 pm and Fridays at 7:00 pm. Cox Cable will also broadcast Bradís Beat on Channel 15 in Wethersfield, Rocky Hill, Newington, Manchester, Glastonbury, and South Windsor at 7:00 pm on Sunday evenings.