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In Conversation: LaShonda Davis, Lower School Director

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What inspired you to pursue a career in education?

I actually started out as a biology major in college, but then I volunteered at an alternative middle school in Philadelphia. It was amazing to see a school full of children who were illiterate. You’re talking about 18-year-olds in the 5th and 6th grade, and the school was really just a holding cell until they aged out. Who even knew something like that existed? As a volunteer reading teacher, I had to start with practicing kindergarten and pre-k words – the, and, she, it. And that was the moment. It was a really sad experience, and I had to do something. I said, “I’m changing my major.”

What is your favorite thing to teach?

Oh, it has to be reading. When I was a child, reading is how I would explore everything. One of my favorite books is one the fourth grade is reading right now – The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. This was the first book I read where I said, “Whoa! This reading thing is deep! This is a big deal!” From then on I had this excitement about where you could go and the people you could meet and the things you could learn. So reading with kids now I can really connect with them on that level, and say “I know! My brain’s going everywhere too, I get it!”

What makes The Hundred Dresses a good read for fourth grade?

It deals with bullying from the perspective of the bystander. There’s a girl who’s watching someone else get bullied, and she never stands up for her. She likes the other girl, but she doesn’t have the courage to say, “Hey, that’s not right” to the bullies.  Especially as our kids are getting older, it’s a situation that they find themselves in. So it’s pretty cool to have it there and have them grapple with it.

Are there particular lines from the school creed that resonate with you?

“I choose to do what is right, even when it’s hard and no one is watching.” When we were writing that, I had a couple of kids in mind who were in secondary school, struggling with hard choices, especially at that weird, bumpy teenage age. And I thought: What would I want them to keep in their brains as they’re walking through the halls of their dormitory? What do you want them to be saying to themselves? That’s the line that gives me goosebumps, because it’s all about you: something you totally keep for yourself—that no one else even knows is happening.

Why do you feel like HA is a place where you want to be, and a place that you’ve chosen for so many years as your professional home?

This is what I tell teachers when I’m hiring: come here if you’ve ever wanted to just teach. You can provide students with top-notch, rigorous education, without the rigidity of other school environments. We sit down in all different types of circles and give each other feedback. Your opinion is valued, whether you’ve been here for 2 months or 10 years. I don’t think that’s happening at other places.