West End's Hays Porter Elementary gets excited about partnership with Kenwood's Rockwern

Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-03 13:27:39-04

This is the second in a series of stories that will follow the progress of the collaboration between Hays Porter Elementary School and Rockwern Academy.

CINCINNATI -- Susan Capozzoli looked around the school cafeteria dotted with young children and their parents.

"My personal goal is for the kids to make a friend," she said. "If they can make a friend with a pen pal that would be a very cool thing."

Capozzoli teaches second and third grade at Rockwern Academy, a Jewish day school in Kenwood that mostly serves white, middle- and higher-income students.

But the cafeteria she surveyed on a recent Wednesday belonged to Hays Porter Elementary School in Cincinnati's West End neighborhood. The neighborhood school serves mostly low-income, African-American students.

Julie Walker, center, learns about the two-school reading program with her grandchildren. Bob Driehaus | WCPO

The two schools are teaming up to read two books together: "Last Stop on Market Street," and "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm."

Students in all grades will participate and use the books as a launching point to get to know people growing up miles form each other but, in some respects, worlds apart.

"For our kids, this neighborhood is the United States. Some of them never leave the neighborhood," said Patrick Wilde, who teaches second grade at Hays Porter. "I'm sure that both sets of kids are going to learn a lot."

Wilde is eager to employ new tools to broaden his students' horizons. Hays Porter is one of seven Cincinnati Public Schools neighborhood schools that developed a specialization this year.

Keontae Grant, 9, and Keasia Price-Willis, 7, work on school laptops at Hays Porter. Bob Driehaus | WCPO.

It's the district's first complete tech elementary school, meaning that all kindergartners and first-graders are assigned a tablet computer and second- and third-graders get a laptop provided by the school.

They also have access to a video production lab. Wilde envisions video conferencing through Skype or FaceTime so that his students can share their ideas about the books with peers at Rockwern.

They'll also become pen pals to first talk about the books before they branch out into getting to know one another.

"They have no clue about how differently other kids live," he said.

But they'll also find out how alike they are too, Wilde said. The interaction, he hopes, will nip prejudice in the bud.

"We need to learn at a young age. I think it's great to break down some of these stereotypes at a young age," he said.

Julie Walker, a Price Hill resident, came to Hays Porter's open house on Sept. 27 to hear about the collaboration and other goings on to help her four grandchildren who attend the school.

"I love this school. I don't care if we have to come all the way down from Price Hill," she said.

Nancy Johnson, Hays Porter's reading specialist, is excited to incorporate the books into her reading plans. She plans to read both books with all the third-graders and pose questions in the style of the state's third-grade reading test.

Nancy Johnson, Hays Porter reading specialist, shows the system that keeps track of how well students are progressing toward reading proficiency. Bob Driehaus | WCPO

"We're going to talk about communities and pose discussion questions in smaller groups," she said. "It can work. There's no reason we can't do this."

Richara Richardson, Hays Porter's resource coordinator, is drawn to the idea of connecting her students in the urban core to a suburban community through being pen pals.

Hays Porter's new high-tech capabilities only add to the possibilities.

"I like the whole idea of live streaming discussions. I think it's going to be a great opportunity," she said.

Julia Weinstein, Rockwern librarian, pointed toward past collaborations with a Muslim school and other public schools for reason to believe that the exercise will help Hays Porter and Rockwern students break down preconceptions about each other.

"We always find out we have more similarities than differences," she said.

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