Celebrating Jaiquan’s Success

Jaiquan and Mrs. Brown: Building trust in Thomasville 

 As a fourth-grader at Liberty Drive Elementary School in Thomasville, Jaiquan Clay found himself in the school office nearly every day because of behavioral problems, and received an in-school or out-of-school suspension 17 times. 

His mother, Shani Kennedy, had to pick him up at school at least 10 times, each time making the 30-minute drive from her job in Greensboro. 

“It was very stressful, being a single parent of three kids, and living two cities over” from her job, she says. “I had been worried about losing my job, getting off work, and not having time available to be at school.” 

But that was then. As a fifth-grader, 10-year-old Jaiquan did not miss a day of school. He was not referred to the school office for behavior problems. And he received all A’s and B’s, and earned one of the highest grades in math among fifth graders. 

The difference has been Shaylen Brown, student support specialist for fourth-graders and fifth-graders at Liberty Drive Elementary with Communities In Schools of Thomasville. 

“Before 5th grade, I felt like it was nobody but me and my son against the schools and administration,” Kennedy says. “Communities In Schools really did restore my faith in the school system. The kids have someone they can turn to.” 

Making a connection 

At the end of fourth grade, a staff team at Liberty Drive Elementary analyzed data on student attendance and discipline, and identified rising fourth-and-fifth-graders who might benefit from support for their academic and social-emotional learning that Communities In Schools provides. 

As the school’s secretary and data manager last school year, Brown often had seen Jaiquan in the office, and befriended him. And as the new Communities In Schools student support specialist for the school this year, she talked by phone with Kennedy several times over the summer about working with Jaiquan to address his behavior problems and improve his academic performance, which had slumped. 

At the school’s open house at the start of Jaiquan’s fifth grade school year, the two women met for the first time. 

“She approached me at the open house and said, ‘I want to help you with Jaiquan. I want to help him be successful in this school year, because I know he can do it,'” Kennedy says.  

A plan for Jaiquan 

Brown says, Jaiquan frequently would become “mad, defiant, sometimes combative” at school. 

So, in her new role as advocate for Jaiquan, she told him and his mother that whenever he started to feel upset in school, he “could come to me instead of shutting down completely,” she says. “If there was something I could help with, I would. If there was something I couldn’t do, we’d get other people involved. Initially, I would be a safe place.” 

For the first week of school, Brown visited Jaiquan in his classes to check in with him. And she let all his teachers know they could call her if he began to misbehave, or that he could visit her in her office if he needed a break. 

One day in the first week of school, she noticed that Jaiquan was struggling in making the transition from his music class to his more structured math class. So, she began to check in with him during the last five minutes of music, and then walk with him to math. 

“We talked about the need to focus more on math, because it was a core class,” she says. 

Within a day or two, Jaiquan was completing his work in math class — correctly — with time to spare, and then distracting other students because he was bored. 

“With some students who have a behavior issue, sometimes we overlook the fact that they are very smart and intelligent because we are only focusing on the negative,” Brown says. 

So, she and Jaiquan’s math teacher agreed that if Jaiquan completed his in-class math assignments, and they were correct, he could go to Brown’s room to work on other math work. It was only the second week of school. 

A few weeks later, Brown made similar arrangements with Jaiquan’s science and language-arts teachers. And in October, with Jaiquan showing progress in all his core classes, Brown talked to the school’s principal and curriculum coach, who agreed that Jaiquan could move to the cluster of academically and intelligently gifted fifth-graders. 

Jaiquan also has become a peer editor in some of his classes. If he completes his own assignments correctly in math and language arts, he is permitted to work with other students who may need extra help. 

Building trust 

“It’s important that we are making a connection with the heart of a child,” Brown says. 

Jaiquan plays quarterback on his football team in the Thomasville Parks and Recreation league, and when he gave Brown the schedule of his games, she attended three of them. 

In September, she asked his football coach to visit the school and talk to Jaiquan and other members of the team to let them know she would be tracking their school progress.  She would communicate with the coach to let him know if they were struggling academically or behaviorally, and he would decide if they could continue playing on the team. 

“In middle school and high school, athletics and academics coincide,” Brown says. “We let them see that if you want to play on the athletic field, you must perform in school.” 

The team played in the league championship game, losing after holding a lead at the half.  

Jaiquan is “the leader of the team,” Brown says. 

Taking ownership 

Brown talked to Kennedy at least once a week about Jaiquan’s progress. 

If Jaiquan has a problem at school or needs to talk to Brown about something “not so positive,” he then tells his mother and “lets her know I got him back on track,” Brown says. 

“He’s taking ownership of his actions, and that’s important because we’re teaching children there are consequences to their actions, but there also are benefits and rewards for doing the right thing,” she says. 

Jaiquan’s mother, who has lived in Thomasville all her life and graduated from Thomasville High School, says she had lost faith in the public schools, but that Brown and Communities In Schools has made her a believer again. 

Most recently, Jaiquan has made a successful transition into middle school.  We’re still cheering for him and watching him succeed at every turn.