#MNPSVoices: Jessica Hardin, Principal
Hay Hay, Lacy and Hattie Pearl are not students at Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center, but they do call the school home. These three inhabitants are chickens that play an important role in interacting with the school’s Pre-K students to help the young scientists learn through nature.
The students also benefit from the expertise of Farmer Mike, a local farmer who volunteers at the center and helped the school build the chicken coop. Lessons developed around the animals have created excitement among the students with the hands-on learning experiences that the hens bring to the classrooms. Principal Jessica Hardin, who has always been an animal lover, said she never expected her career would involve caring for farm animals but she has found a new soft spot for chickens.
“The students do all types of assignments with the chickens—paint, journal and learn about caring for the animals,” Hardin said. “They have even made deviled eggs—which they surprisingly loved!”
The type of learning happening at the Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center provides basic foundations in STEAM curriculum – relating to science to writing to art – and connecting all aspects and subjects within the academic experience. In addition, the center nourishes a garden where students learn important lessons on tending to even the smallest living things. Parents also reap the rewards of the classroom garden by having access to any extra fruits and vegetables not being used in the center’s café.
Hardin said the center has seen success in not only helping students find the connection between all lessons but addressing chronic absenteeism. From 2016 to 2018, attendance increased by 23 percent, a data point now just behind the district’s average. Students are recognized monthly for perfect attendance and, a few times a year, celebrations are held in which students can enjoy an evening of fun, snacks and a movie. This also encourages parents to focus on their child’s attendance because the timing of the celebration provides the incentive of evening childcare.
“These events reward students, but also importantly rewards parents,” Hardin said. “We have had success by being really clear on expectations and celebrating when those expectations are met.”
Notable strides are also being addressed in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and training. The center’s teachers are trained in strategies that help children in times of crisis to identify and work through their emotions. Next year, Hardin hopes to train all of her teachers and support staff in prevention and mitigation of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“There has been amazing SEL work happening here to prepare our kids for kindergarten,” Hardin said. “We are working to help them better express their needs, wants, concerns and fears using their words.”