What's good at CC Spaulding

[NOTE: This article was originally published on the blog of the Durham Association of Educators. Click HERE to read it and see the photographs.]

There is nothing better than a Friday at a school.

Having spent nearly my entire life in public schools, I have a general model for how the week goes. Everyone feels sleepy on Monday. Tuesday is super focused. Wednesday starts to pull at the seams a bit. Thursday can feel heavy and exhausting, but hopeful because you’re almost there. Friday though. On Friday (which for educators, starts when the bell rings on Thursday), our steps feel a bit lighter, our smiles less forced, and our manner more relaxed. We’ve gotten to the end of a week, and it’s much easier to love, or at least be pleasant with, each other, our work, and our kids.

I had the great pleasure of spending a Friday at C.C. Spaulding Elementary recently, and I enjoyed myself so much that I ended up staying an extra hour or two at the school just to soak up all of the wonderful energy bouncing around the hallways.

My day at Spaulding began with a nice long sit down with Bea Laney, the school’s Mental Health School Based Support Specialist (yup…that’s her title). She came to the school 6 years ago on a pilot grant aimed at building a model for the provision of mental health services in Durham’s public schools. The program is expanding based on the successes that the pilot has had, and Laney is clearly a source of that success at the school. Her demeanor was unrelentingly pleasant, and it was a delight to hear her talk about the ways that the mental health team works with kids on a regular basis while Teachers get time to meet together and plan in Professional Learning Communities. The school’s 5th graders are learning meditation practices, while the younger students are learning to take time to breathe and focus on their breath with the help of stuffed animal “breathing buddies.” Another component of the school’s mental health programming is Inner Explorer, which helps teachers facilitate the acquisition of mindfulness skills and practices with their students without the support of mental health professionals. When I asked Laney why this work was so important to her, she responded that, “meditation has had such a great impact on my life and I want to share it with others.” We traded stories for a while longer, and I left Laney’s office thrilled about the resources that Spaulding students are developing so early in their lives.
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Another resource that Spaulding kids had access to on this Friday was the free dental services of Kayla Shivers, Jenny Agosta, Candice Chambers, and Dr. Michelle Pearson. They all staff the national mobile dentist program, Smile, which is designed to provide dental care to young people who might not have access to it otherwise. This is the first year that they’ve come to Spaulding, and the demand was so high that they ended up working at the school from Tuesday to Friday, when they typically only stay at schools for a day at a time. Since it was the Friday prior to Halloween, they showed up in costume and added a festive character to the critical services they were providing for Spaulding students.IMG_12961

Durant McCathearn, or “Mr. D,” has been an important resource at the school as both an Instructional Assistant and a long-term sub for the last 6 years. When I asked why he keeps coming back, he shared that he loves the energy of the kids and how enthusiastic they are about learning. He added that he appreciates the challenge that comes with working with kids who need more support than they might be getting, and that he asks the staff to bring him “the hardest ones” so that he can be part of the team that helps them find new and healthier paths.

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Physical Education Teacher and Technology Specialist Curtis Walker is also interested interested in healthier paths. We talked about the ways that he is using soccer to promote wellness among the students, and how offering the students “recreational skills development” serves a need and gives him a sense of purpose. He’s been at the school for 10 of his 21 years in education and is very obviously invested.

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Down the hall, Student Teacher Alexis Crawford is new to the school, but she’s already picked up on the enthusiasm that Teachers have for their children and for teaching.

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James Thorpe is also new to Spaulding and the profession. He’s teaching 5th grade and loves the support that he gets from the other staff, from the school’s Instructional Facilitator, and from DPS in general. He added that he loves the students he works with because of the variety of personalities that he gets to come in contact with every day.

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4th grade Teacher Brenda Reid is not new to the profession. She’s in her 20th year in schools and agreed with Thorpe’s assessment of the staff. She loves the “closeness and camaraderie” of the team and the ways that they have each other’s backs. She called the school a family and shared with me all of the ways that the school’s staff works to support each other in challenging times.

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Trish Gregory affirmed Reid’s assessment of the staff, saying that she loves the “teamwork and collaboration between Teachers,” and all of the support that the school’s administration offers.

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I began to notice a pattern when Kindergarten Teacher Jaime Kurtz described the staff at Spaulding as “very helpful and extremely hard-working.” “No one goes home before 6,” she offered, arguing that the commitment of Spaulding’s staff to their kids is deep. Those kids, however, also play their part, according to Kurtz. She told me that they “absorb everything” and “really want to be here.” Sounds like a really great combination to me.

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Another component of the success at Spaulding is parent support. While I talked with Teachers in the hallway, I watched parents and grandparents walk their young ones to their classrooms. I noted their presence, and Karen Briggs said that the whole school community”works well as a family, trying hard to understand the needs of kids and desires of parents.” She’s a 1st grade Teacher now, but spent years volunteering at the school before she worked there, and, like the students and their families that filled the hallways, claims the school as a home.

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Lillian Loftin-Bell is in her 5th year at Spaulding, and told me that she “just loves teaching.” She works with 1st graders and appreciates the developmental period that they are in. She argued that they can be “molded” a little more easily because they “have learned how to sit in a classroom,” are “very social,” and are “learning how to communicate and collaborate with each other.”

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Another member of the 1st grade team, Shawn Ferguson, shared that she likes that age group because they are “very motivated” and have a “great interest in learning.”

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School Secretary/Treasurer Patricia Lester echoed Ferguson’s sentiments, saying that her favorite part of working at the school is that she likes “dealing with the kids. They want to learn.”

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Sharon Torian has been a Counselor at the school for 5 years and continued the refrain about Spaulding students. She shared that “they are loving and want to learn.” She called both them and her co-workers welcoming, adding that she gets “excited every day coming in to see them.”

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That seem passion was evident in my conversation with Pre-K Instructional Assistant Allyson Williams. She’s been at Spaulding for 11 years and described the school as “a big family.” She shared that the staff “loves the children,” are “hard workers,” and are “determined to make sure that they are successful by any means.”

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The school’s Principal, Dr. Stacy Gibbs, brings a “by any means” approach to the work herself. She and I spent about an hour and a half in her office talking, and I left really excited about her approach to the challenges of school leadership. She’s in her 1st year at Spaulding, but has worked in schools in a whole host of different capacities over the course of her career as an educator. When she got to the school, she prioritized having a sit down meeting with every staff member, where she asked the questions, “what has worked here?”, “what needs to change,” and “what do I need to do to support you?” She referenced the speaker that DPS brought in during the work days at the beginning of the year, saying that she has emphasized the “I see you, I hear you, and what you say matters to me” mantra that the speaker shared when she communicates with the staff. As a result, she has seen the staff grow into an understanding that they can, and should, hold her accountable for supporting them and their students. We talked at great length about her PhD research, her thoughts on school discipline, and the challenges of supporting students who carry the instability of living through poverty and racism every day. Near the end of our time together, Gibbs summed up her priorities succinctly, stating that her main goal is that her students “be good people” when they leave the school. In the era of corporate reforms that emphasize testing and a narrow version of “rigor,” it was refreshing to walk out of a Principal’s office clear that she is prioritizing her students as whole people, instead of the numbers that the privatizers are trying to turn them into.

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It was also refreshing to move through the hallways with Lisa Richmond She’s the school’s Data Manager, but clearly plays a whole host of roles outside of that description. She had a High 5 and something kind to say to every student we walked past, and it was obvious that they love her as much as she loves them. When I asked what it is about the students that she loves, she told me that “they’re honest…they’re brutally honest,” adding that they are “wonderful” and “loving.”

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I found the whole Spaulding experience to be wonderful and loving, and I walked out of the school feeling so grateful that I had learned about one more of Durham’s most important institutions. Educators are out here working miracles 7 days a week y’all, even if it happens to be more fun on a Friday. You really should get out there and check it out.

Thanks for sharing your best day of the week with me C.C. Spaulding. I can’t wait to come back and smile with you some more.

from Bryan Proffitt on Sunday, November 15, 2015

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