By Alejandra Gomez and Jasmeet Kaur
The definition of community runs far deeper than simply a group of people who live in the same place. Community is a feeling that gives the members a sense of belonging, united through a particular interest and having greater strength together than as an individual. These are all aspects of a strong community which can be found represented by the students and staff at Caroline Davis Middle School.
Davis’ community is very diverse and brings all types of students together. The students more often than not come from middle-class or low-income families, and that aspect brings all the children together, eliminating the social class discrimination found in lots of schools. Staff reported that there is a great diversity in ethnic backgrounds between students, and that seeing them all get along and have cross-racial friends warms their hearts.
Davis is a very supportive, caring, welcoming and extremely “tight-knit” community, treating each other like family. Many students, and even teachers, attending Davis have had parents or even grandparents who have gone to this school, and the teachers often are able to recognize siblings, or even children, of their previous students.
One student in particular described his family’s history at Davis. Patrick Opilla, a 13-year-old eighth grader at Davis, talked about how when he was merely a 3-year-old infant his father coached the boys soccer team and his mother coached the girls team. Following their parents’ path, Opilla’s siblings all went to Davis, and now he attends the school that has been in his family since the day he was born.
This concept of history at Davis transfers to the teachers too. Samuel Barocio, now a history teacher at Davis for three years, talked about how he graduated from Davis, and his previous eighth grade history teacher is now his colleague. Brett McCleary, Mr. Barocio’s previous history teacher, described how when he became a teacher at Davis there were a handful of teachers still there who had taught him when he was a student at Davis, and now he was teaching alongside them as their colleague.
When Mr. Barocio became a teacher at Davis, Mr. McCleary, along with his brother Greg McCleary, who teaches eighth grade science, described how it felt being on the flip side of that situation. He said, “We’re the old guys now. For me, the big turn around is just seeing that time really has passed.”
Even though more than 15 years have passed for both brothers, day after day the McCleary brothers are drawn back to Davis because of one sole purpose: the kids. They said, “The kids give us energy. The eighth grade organism is a special age. There’s still a little bit of kid left in them, and there’s a lot of trying to grow up and being an adult and they’re all trying to figure stuff out – really fun group of kids to work with.”
From a history perspective, Brett McCleary explained how recent political landscapes, such as the presidential election, have transferred over to his classroom. He said, “I feel a reinvigorated charge into bringing purpose into why I teach kids civics, Constitution, government, and trying to encourage political involvement, and concern about what’s going on in this country to become a better citizen. Getting up and getting to work is easy now when I realize I gotta roll up the sleeves; I got a lot of work to do. I have to get these kids to understand their roles, their responsibilities and their contributions they’re going to make some day, and that fires me up.”
Greg McCleary, eighth grade science teacher; Brett McCleary, eighth grade history teacher
Mr. McCleary went on to talk about the results of their hard work as teachers. He said, “It’s always cool to see as you get older into teaching you run into ex-students teaching at school with you, or other ones that are researchers for Stanford or they’re working as an engineer, whatever it might be, the whole spectrum. It reminds you that the work we do now, we don’t see the benefits until much later down the road, but, when you see them, it’s like – that’s why we do the job we do.”
The staff at Davis is very caring; they love their students and the vibrant, “family” vibe they feel going to work every day. Many teachers at Davis, although for different reasons, have been at Davis for a very long time. Mike Coleman, a P.E. teacher for eighth graders, has been at Davis for 34 years.
He said what brings him back every day is the challenge and atmosphere of being a P.E. teacher. Mr. Coleman explained that being a PE teacher isn’t as easy as some would believe. He said, “I have to figure out, just like everyone else, ways to engage students, to motivate students, and I have a game plan every day. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and I usually will try to do a self-evaluation to see what worked and what didn’t. I just try to bring my A-game every single day.”
Mr. Coleman went on to explain that having a Physical Education class is very important for students because, besides all the health benefits and healthy habits they take with them, P.E. teaches kids skills they won’t learn in a classroom such as teamwork, leadership, perseverance and real-life problem-solving skills. It also helps children at this age of 12 or 13 to develop camaraderie, which is vital in building strong relationships as they move into high school.
His views on P.E. are shared with his colleague, Nicole Benson, who is also an eighth grade P.E. teacher. When asked what brings her to work every day, Ms. Benson replied, “It’s one of those jobs that doesn’t feel like work. It’s a part of what you do every day.” She said that the kids at Davis are very compassionate and respectful toward all the P.E. teachers, and, along with them, the community, her colleagues, and sports drive her to come back every day to instill healthy fitness habits in all of her students.
She also believes that P.E. should “100 percent” be offered in all schools, not only because of health benefits, but because of the fact that many kids don’t know much about sports, and the exposure to sports at this age teaches them about the accountability that comes with being on a team, which transfers into real life when they will have to work with a team and know how to take responsibility for their actions.
Along with helping develop skills needed to move forward into their lives, teachers try to develop a healthy student-teacher relationship that they hope will last a lifetime. Angela White, a seventh grade P.E. teacher, described her relationships with the students. She believes that at the middle-school level, kids are wanting adult interaction from people other than their parents because of the fact that in elementary school they are always around adults, so in middle school they want to get to know the adults and establish a friendship.
Davis employs some teachers that are very young, and the students have a chance to get to know them on a more friendly level instead of just the “you’re my student; I’m your teacher” relationship. Mrs. White explained that she likes to keep in touch with her students even after graduation because she really gets to know them and she becomes their friend, not just the woman who made them run a mile every week.
Along with healthy student-teacher relationships, student bonds at Davis seem to be decent as well. Davis’s “team system” brings together many students who might not have ever spoken to each other before.
The team system at Davis started four years ago, and students are randomly put into groups — accounting for IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), English Language Learners and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) students — for a balanced team. Each team has a group of four teachers for the core classes of math, English, science and history, and all students in the team have the same four teachers. Teachers reported that this was a great step in a positive direction because it allowed them to get to know their students better and offer more support to kids who need that extra push.
Students love the team system because they get to spend more time with the friends they make in these teams, and there are competitions between teams to see who has the most spirit, bringing the students closer through teamwork and the desire to achieve a common goal: to be the best team.
In addition to the team system, student bonds and the community are strengthened through school spirit days and rallies. Davis has many fun and engaging spirit days, including Pajama Day, Disney Day and Crazy Hair Day, that help connect the students in an entertaining way. When asked about rallies, eighth grader Jordan Cooper shared, “Rallies are the things that get you hyped up – once you’re done with your class and you’re tired, and you wanna get hyped up, go to a rally and it’s really fun. You can just go see some of your friends.”
Along with school spirit, Davis provides students with many opportunities. Some programs offered at Davis are art, foreign language and also the chance for eighth graders to be a teacher assistant, teaching them about responsibility and working with people outside their age group.
Students say that the art program is really fun and engaging, and I, being a previous student enrolled in the art program at Davis, believe that art class is very fun and gives you confidence in your own skills because of the way it’s broken down to help students get more advanced over time. Davis offers kids the option of Spanish or French for foreign language, which gives the kids more variety as to which language they’d like to learn.
Some more programs offered at Davis are band, GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) and CJSF (California Junior Scholarship Federation). Davis has a very advanced band program, which has won many first place trophies all around the world. They travel far, to places such as Disneyland, to perform and compete. The GATE and CJSF programs allow students who excel the opportunities for scholarships in college.
On the flip side, Davis teachers also offer students who need extra help the support they need, by staying after school or during lunch to help anyone who asks for it. The McCleary brothers talked about how Davis’ partnership with the Boys and Girls Club also helps the students and them in providing the students more help.
Brett McCleary said, “There’s a Boys and Girls Club next door that has an actual homework center, and most of the kids get the help they need there.” Greg McCleary said that this lightens the load on teachers and described their partnership with the Boys and Girls Club as a “luxury,” and stated, “I appreciate that, and I’m sure the kids do too.”
Davis also offers a variety of sports to their students such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field and cross country, for both boys and girls. They also have a softball team, which is offered to only girls. Students talked about how much they love the sports teams at Davis. Many kids are very committed to the sports they play, and they said being a student athlete puts a lot more pressure on their school life.
“Being a student athlete is more difficult than being an average student,” Kahary Redmond stated. “Basketball affects me because it makes me want to work harder as a student and an athlete. You have to focus on your grades because, if you don’t focus on your grades, that means you can get cut from the team, and you don’t want that.”
Cooper also talked about how being a student athlete affects his school life. “You gotta do your best just to stay on the team. As a student you gotta focus on your grades, and as an athlete, you gotta focus on your skills. You have to find a good balance.”
Dominic Price, a seventh grader, said he comes to school every day because of basketball, and it makes him want to do better in school to stay on the team.
A lot of changes have taken place in the 50+ years that Davis has been around, especially to the campus. Kim Kianidehkian, the principal at Davis, talked about the “Beautification Process” that took place. She said when she arrived at Davis, she started meeting with the superintendent and creating a plan for what was needed at Davis in order to create an “equitable, safe, clean and attractive” environment.
She continued, “Because of the budget crisis that’s been going on in California for a long time, the exterior of our building was neglected. Our district was able to pass a bond that allowed us to bring an influx of money into school beautification, so we created a plan with the superintendent.” She also explained how the original plan was supposed to take only a year but has turned into a four-year process for transforming the exterior of Davis. There have been changes in landscaping, restoring covered walkways for rainy days, and a fresh coat of paint for the school, along with decorative fencing around the school that also helps in lock downs, if needed.
The art students at Davis also contributed to make the campus pop. They have given ideas for some of the walls and murals that have been painted.
In addition to campus, the community and spirit at Davis have also changed a lot. Mr. Barocio talked about his experience from when he was a student at Davis to now being a teacher. He said, “The amount of spirit here has been greatly increased from the time I was here. Things like teams have really helped to improve the spirit, and rallies – we didn’t have that when I was here. Just seeing the kids wearing their different team colors, it’s definitely a cool thing to see. The campus spirit has increased drastically, and I believe it’s for the better.”
Overall, many changes have come upon Davis, but the one thing that stayed the same is the community. The vibe at Davis has always been welcoming and bright. The community is very supportive, caring and hardworking. They are determined to make the experience the best they can for the students, and, if someone slips, someone else is always there to pick up the slack and fix it. Greg McCleary explained that this is his favorite aspect about Davis. “You gotta make do with what you got. You don’t hear people here complain. They just roll up their sleeves and fix it, and that’s what I love about this community.”
Here are some additional photos of the Davis community as it undergoes restoration:
You have captured the wonderful landscape that exists at Davis Intermediate school. I am so proud of your work highlighting the significance of community, inclusivity and the celebration of diversity. Your writing was compelling and brings to light the wonderful experiences provided to students by a dedicated and caring group of teachers, staff and administrators.
Congratulations! You make the Davis and Oak Grove Community proud!
Jose L. Manzo, Oak Grove School District Superintendent