The Force Is With Her

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davis' skills with young children have impacted generations

by lydie raschka

kindergarten teacher brenda davis is known, respectfully, as the "jedi master of early childhood teachers" by the parents who revere her-a few of whom were in her classroom when they were 5 and 6 years old. davis learned her craft through years of practice, training and dedication. she is described as "artful," "wise," "focused" and "patient."

"it's better as i've gotten older," she said. "i have much more patience with children than adults."

yet the adults at p.s. 180 watch and learn.

"as a parent, you drink it up and try to take notes," said megan berry. "her skill is the result of someone who has been showing up for everything for years."

after a dissatisfying foray in the business world, davis worked in daycare for 10 years. she ventured into the public school system as a substitute, schlepping a bag of activities suitable for kindergartners through middle schoolers because of her constantly changing assignments. but her heart has always been with the youngest ones.

"i always liked the early grades," she said. "they tell you the truth whether you want to hear it or not."

davis has seen at least six principals come and go in her 21 years at p.s. 180. one of her biggest challenges has been adapting to those who arrive with new methodologies and trends.

"that has been a challenge," she said. "sometimes they didn't have elementary school experience. i've had to learn to be more flexible. i used to have much more fixed ideas. as i get older, i see we can reach the same point and come from different directions."

in many ways, however, davis is a principal's dream. she loves to learn and refine her technique. a recent training topic was "differentiated instruction," or providing students with different avenues to acquire content, based on their interests and abilities.

"some students are really into dinosaurs," davis said, "and i have a lot of block builders this year. you have to feel your group. each group has a different rhythm and you can't alter that. i find private moments to sit and talk to them about their interests. there's a lot of talking in pre-k and k."

there's also a lot of going out. she takes her class to the bronx zoo, the transit museum and central park to look for bugs.

davis has had her own jedi masters along the way: a mother "who liked to explain things;" mrs. jackson, her 3rd- grade teacher; and a grandmother who was "a great reader." in college, she had a supportive professor who encouraged her to "keep going forward" when she was inclined to stop with her associate's degree. eventually, she earned her master's from adelphi university.

a life-long manhattanite, davis enjoys swimming, walking and turner classic movies. she has one child and one grandchild and is active in children's programming at her church. at p.s. 180, alumni can often be found hovering around her door, a testament to her lasting impact.

"heart, soul and spirit," she said. "that's what a child needs nurtured."


brenda davis

kindergarten, p.s. 180

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