by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” —Isaac Newton
Teacher. Coach. Mentor. Advocate.
Valencia Davis wears lots of hats at Loara High School. Most have to do with building bridges between diverse people, helping others make difficult transitions, and fostering connectivity on campus.
As a “lesson design specialist” the world history teacher is helping colleagues transition from current standards to the Common Core. She also provides professional development in SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English) strategies for teachers to help not only English learners, but all students who are struggling with oral and written language.
As co-adviser of the Bridges Program, she encourages students to have a “voice” and become a part of their school community. Bridges is a nationally recognized program serving Orange County schools for over 20 years to build campus environments that are respectful of diversity, where all students, staff and parents feel safe, welcome and respected.
Even if fellow teachers don’t always agree with what students have to say, she encourages students to speak their minds.
A few years ago, students waged a schoolwide campaign about “preferential treatment” for some students when it came to turning in assignments late, bathroom passes, etc. The student-led campaign brought faculty, parents, administrators and classified employees into a broad discussion about equity issues and increased awareness on campus about preferential treatment.
Equity is an important issue to Davis, who grew up in an Arkansas household that emphasized helping others. Success, she says, depends upon the opportunities people receive in life, which may not always be fair or equitable, even if they have access to the same things.
In Davis’ words:
People often confuse the words equality and equity…
and think these words can be used interchangeably. But they are different. Equity is fairness, and just because children attend school doesn’t mean the education they are receiving is equitable. When you take into consideration things like poverty and language barriers, you can see that one-size-fits-all doesn’t fit when it comes to education. It might be equal but it’s not equitable. Some schools have a great deal more resources than others.
I am most proud of my students…
when they open up bridges of communication and understanding. I have seen band geeks invite a greaser or someone different into their clique. It’s wonderful to see them understand that we’re all Saxons [the school mascot]. One time many of them nearly left school to join a protest about immigration, but instead they decided to organize a protest on campus. They increased awareness on our campus instead of feeding into media sensationalism about immigrant students and valuing education. That was a moment when I looked at them and said, “Wow!”
People shouldn’t be frightened of the Common Core because…
the standards emphasize the skills students need to demonstrate understanding of the content. The standards are concise and provide learning progressions from one grade level to the next. For the first time, all disciplinary areas play an important role in developing students who are both college and career ready. We will produce literate students who are effective in communicating, solving problems and working collaboratively. In the end, our students will become innovators ready to embrace their futures in the 21st century.
My philosophy is that…
I can effect change one person at a time, whether it’s an adult or a student. I believe that we can all move from being good to being great. I never see students — or adults — as a finished product. We are all where we are in this moment, and we can all move and transition into something better if we have the support to do that.
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