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Community approach sparks success for Davenport’s Madison School

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A delegation from Davenport's Madison School will receive special recognition in Des Moines on Thursday. It will be one of just five Iowa schools to receive an award for "Breaking the Barriers to Teaching and Learning."

Once one of the worst performing schools in Davenport, it's becoming one of the best in Iowa. Test scores are turning heads, and kids are concentrating.

Kindergartners are drilling with determination at 8:45 on Tuesday morning. That's where teacher Sara Glover leads an energetic, engaging session.

"I'm a believer," she said.

Glover is hooked on a teaching technique called Direct Instruction. It's a tightly scripted regimen.

Madison School has been using the program, Reading Mastery, for more than a decade. It's unique in Davenport and helping at-risk kids to thrive.

"By bringing that program into our school, I think it's been really successful for all the kids," Glover said.

Successful as well for para-educator Laura Aloian. The Madison parent works with half the group in a side room.

"We help them sound out words," she said. "We work on writing sentences."

Students spend more than two hours daily on reading in ability-based groups.

"It's a truly community feel here at Madison," said Madison Principal Sara Gott.

That's why you'll find volunteers in the hallway.

"Sometimes I time them, and sometimes I check to if they make a mistake," said St. Ambrose University sophomore Bridget King.

Those volunteers run the gamut from King, who is an education major, to retiree Bob Barstow.

"It makes me excited to see their excitement," he said.

"We want to do it," added fifth grader Bryson Newborn, 11. "Not just, we have to do it."

In the library, Lunch Buddy Heather Gosma mentors youngsters. She's a volunteer from St. Paul Lutheran Church.

"Everyone here is so supportive," Gosma said. "It's an easy and a fun thing to do."

That investment is really paying dividends. The community effort is narrowing the education gap in reading and math. That helps kids to learn.

"Our students work hard," said Gott. "The expectation and the bar is there, but we have a lot of people helping them along the way."

Help from the community and curriculum. That's the secret of going from worst to first at Madison.

"It's very different from what I expected," said first year teacher Chelsea Oldham. Inside her reading class, she fits right into the mix.

Oldham likes Direct Instruction because kids are accountable. They're all on task with fewer behavior problems.

"A lot of them have a confidence that you don't normally see in fourth graders," she continued. "They all believe that they're good readers, and they are."

That success comes with help from teachers like Mary Beth Dircks. She's giving kids one-on-one attention while monitoring their success.

"You feel far more confident when you can actually read and understand," she said.

That confidence rubs off on kids who face great obstacles. But at Madison School, they're climbing those mountains one assignment at a time.

Parents are expected to play a daily role in the learning process. Plus, programs before and after school help to keep kids on track.

"I can get a diploma," said Amirah Williams, 10, who hopes to become a teacher.  "And then I can go on in my life to be the greatest person I can ever be."

A life lesson that's really one for the books at Madison School.