MANCHESTER — Study after study has proven people work harder for those they like and the same holds true for students, the city’s new school district superintendent, Dr. Debra Livingston, told about 300 high school teachers in her first formal address Tuesday.
“When students like you, they feel a connection and quite likely they will learn more from you,” she said.
She said the relationship teachers establish with students starting on the very first day of school will affect the amount they learn.
Livingston, a former superintendent of Fall Mountain Regional School District who was selected in June to head the state’s largest school district, said she met with several students over the summer. One who wasn’t doing particularly well in school was born in a refugee camp of Nepalese parents. He lived in the camp all his life before coming to Manchester.
Life in the camp meant everything was provided for him and his family, including food, so when the family arrived in Manchester there was culture shock. His parents don’t work and haven’t for 18 years, the rather embarrassed student told Livingston. They had no idea how to enter the work force.
Now, in Manchester, the student is enjoying his freedom but, at the same time, having a hard time grasping the idea of freedom. Still, he dreams of becoming an engineer but no one believes in him, he confided to Livingston. He meant his family, she said.“That really hit home with me,” she said. Her parents expected her to get married and provide them with grandchildren.
But she had bigger dreams she knew could come true because, she said, of the 64-count Crayola crayons box that came with its in-box crayon sharpener. With four children in her family, school shopping meant an eight-count box of off-brand crayons or, if it was a good year, a 16-count box, but never Crayolas.
In school, she definitely had Crayola envy and would maneuver around so she sat next to a classmate with those coveted crayons with names like Almond, Orange and Lime — and even Cotton Candy.
Livingston said every year she still goes school shopping — even though she needs no supplies — and picks up a box of those Crayola crayons.
“Every crayon represents a wonderful teacher who influenced my life,” she said. They represent the teachers who believed in her even though her father only had an eighth-grade education.
“They believed I would be a first generation college graduate,” she said.
She urged Manchester’s teachers to celebrate each and every student, from that young Nepalese student yearning to be an engineer, to the student from Syria struggling to learn English, to the student striving to be the fourth generation of her family to attend Harvard.
“You are their hopes and dreams,” she said.
The principals of the city’s four high schools — Ronald Mailhot of Central, Arthur Adamakos of Memorial, Chris Motika of West and Karen White of the Manchester School of Technology — then outlined the district’s vision for the school year. The focus, they said, should be on the student and strong communication with students, parents and fellow teachers, and collaboration among the high schools.
On the first day of school, Mailhot said the focus should be on welcoming the students and getting to know them, not necessarily on all the rules.
“Books and supplies will be on hand and students will learn something on day one,” he said.
Teachers were asked to comment or offer suggestions about what to do on the first day of classes. One said he like to talked to the kids to find out what he could about them.
“Learn their names,” Adamakos advised.
He said the high schools are a community and, as such, will be sharing ideas and not working as independently as before.
Motika said there are a lot of students who need additional effort. What is needed is communication on all levels, especially with parents and students, including home visits or making telephone calls to home, he said.
A call home doesn’t necessarily have to be to tell a parent what the child did wrong but can be to praise the students, something parents appreciate.
“Consider going out with a colleague to do a home visit,” he said. “Try to figure out what the problem is to help build a stronger relationship.”