If Lensley Gay has a familiar face, it may be because she has served for 10 years as site coordinator for the Family Resource Center at Brennan Rogers School of Communication and Media. You may also recognize her from Cornell Scott Healthcare Covid-19 ads, which feature several community people. Gay’s picture is on bulletin boards, buses, and store fronts encouraging people to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Gay also is well known in Brennan Rogers pre-kindergarten classrooms, where she attends many pretend tea parties and eats lots of fake pizza to engage in conversation with the students. “The children talk about what they are cooking, building or drawing,” Gay said. She loves engaging in social emotional learning time, and asks questions, such as “What are you doing in that kitchen?” “What do veterinarians do? Is your puppy sick?”
Gay’s work with Brennan Rogers’s families begins early. “We start off with babies,” she said. “We have an early childhood development program, and we offer diapers, parenting development classes and books to help parents to build their child’s home library.” Though certain activities have been deferred due to Covid-19, Gay has organized curbside play dates, classes outdoors on healthy eating and yoga, as well as outdoor activities during the school’s breaks to give families a place to go.
“Ms. Gay is a rock star,” said her principal, Kim Daniley. “She is super-helpful with our parent engagement efforts and also with providing lots of special experiences for our classrooms.”
Gay devotes much of her time to supporting student literacy. She recently organized a reading of the book, Living in Two Homes Is Tough, by a child author, Abby Cadet, an experience that inspired students in first, second and third grades to write their own stories. She also took students in grades K-3 to the library to meet children’s author Lizzy Rockwell, who told them how she develops and illustrates her stories.
Gay has “a very big interest” in sixth grade, she said. “They're just starting in middle school, and they need to get the most out of their middle school experiences.” This year’s sixth grade enjoyed an adventure Gay calls “the Magic Black History School Bus Tour” to show the students 17 New Haven sites on the historical Freedom Trail. Students heard dramatist Dr. Karima Robinson, who performed a one-woman show on Ida B. Wells and Phillis Wheatley via Zoom. To address student anxieties about math, Gay organized a talk with Dr. Shelly Jones, professor of mathematical sciences at Central Connecticut State University, on how to stay engaged with the subject. “Dr. Jones talked about a lot of women who have been successful in math,” Gay said.
Brennan Rogers has collaborated with organizations such as Common Ground and the Boy Scouts to enhance programs and activities for students. “Common Ground came out in April to do a lesson on Earth Day,” said Gay. “We went outside and took in the beauty of the earth and our surroundings, and we used watercolors to paint the sky and the backdrop. The younger children painted flowers. That was a very engaging lesson.”
Common Ground also has involved students in enhancing the outdoor spaces surrounding the school.
“Our younger students relish visiting our garden as much as going to the playground,” Gay said. “They are just amazed by what they see from day to day and week to week.”
Common Ground also is helping teachers develop approaches to outdoor learning, according to Daniley.
The principal recently inked an agreement with the Boy Scouts to provide a program in robotics and other scouting activities for students in grades three through eight.
Gay has cultivated a partnership with the Shubert Theater. She relishes their program called the Backstage Pass, which provides tours of the theatre and an overview of its history. This year 36 fifth graders and six parents will tour the theater. In the past, “I’ve heard so many parents say, ‘Gosh. I have ridden by the Shubert many times and I have never been inside’,” Gay said. “That’s something I don’t want our school-age children who live in this town to ever say!”