• February 28, 2020

AN APPLE FOR THE TEACHER – Dawes Avenue School: Donna Coan - Ocean City Sentinel: News

AN APPLE FOR THE TEACHER – Dawes Avenue School: Donna Coan

Morning Club meets students’ basic needs

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2020 2:49 pm

SOMERS POINT — Some Somers Point students are getting a good start to their day — and their lives — through the Dawes Avenue Dolphin Morning Club.

Intervention teacher Donna Coan started the club in the 2018-19 school year after seeing some students’ basic needs were not being met at home, and now volunteers her time to help meet those needs.

She said the issue was discussed during a workshop and she decided to take on the challenge.

“We have learned about social, emotional learning and how kids need to have their basic needs met before they can learn. You feel better with your teeth brushed, hair brushed. We have so many children who are coming to school without having those basic needs met,” Coan said. “We were learning all of that but nobody was doing anything about it, so I said ‘let’s do something about it.’”

She said she called her principal and superintendent and proposed her idea, noting some “kids I knew needed love and attention,” and then she started the club.

Dawes Avenue School offers breakfast to all students and about 10 or so take part in the club, through which they are provided with an opportunity to brush their teeth, style their hair, use deodorant, face wash and other basic items, and are treated to an exercise in mindfulness. 

Coan, a 1986 graduate of Ocean City High School who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in reading education with certification as a reading specialist, is now in her 29th year at the school. She teaches students in kindergarten through third grade. 

She said she has seen a change in her students’ socioeconomic conditions and how some struggle, and thinks the program is helping.

“They come in the morning and I play relaxing music, they brush their teeth, do their hair, use deodorant, hand lotion, body spray — anything they need to feel good about themselves,” Coan said. “It’s a relaxing atmosphere. They can come here, get free breakfast in the cafeteria, get their hair brushed, teeth brushed and have a relaxing atmosphere to start their day.”

Coan said the students learn some relaxation skills, coping skills, breathing techniques and yoga poses, “things they can do when I’m not around.”

“I’m trying to help them be more independent. They are practicing mindfulness and meeting their basic needs.”

It appears to be working, as evidenced by improved attendance and a reduction in behavior problems, she said.

“They’re excited to come. They know they are cared for and loved,” Coan said.

The improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed by the administration.

Principal Doreen Lee even nominated Coan as a LifeChanger of the Year through the National Life Group this year. 

“Donna Coan is amazing. Last year she noticed many students coming with messy hair and their teeth not brushed so she started a morning program for any student who wanted to come. She does their hair, has toothbrushes for each student who comes and starts them off on a positive note for the day,” Lee said. “Parents love it too since many are rushing out the door to work and just don’t have time to do it all.”

Lee said Coan “is a fabulous teacher/interventionist,” noting that she was Teacher of the Year in 2010-11.

Coan said the students have increased self-confidence and improved attendance because “they know someone has a connection with them who cares that they come to school.”

She runs the program on a volunteer basis and would pay for all of the supplies herself if it weren’t for donations of items from her colleagues, including Lee and Superintendent Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder.

“It’s so little in the grand scheme of things,” Coan said of the cost. “When you see the change that it makes in some of these children it is so worth it.”

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