Sarah Davis: Changing Lives Through Education
Sarah Davis was in for a surprise.
When she was away from home and a friend texted her congratulatory greetings for being named one of the Women in Excellence awardees, she thought her friend made a mistake.
She shrugged it off and texted back, “That’s not me. There are many Sarah Davises in the area.”
She was, of course, dumbfounded when she returned home and found a message on her home phone from the Madison Chamber of Commerce saying that she was indeed, one of the recipients of the Women in Excellence Award.
The Madison Chamber awarded Sarah at a luncheon held last Oct. 3 at WoodWinds in Branford. Also honored were five other women from the towns of Branford, North Branford, Guilford, Clinton, and Old Saybrook.
“It was great. A lot of people showed up,” Sarah recalls of the event. “This is the fourth year they’re doing it. I think there’s a following so I think there’s many more years to come.”
Sarah received the award for opening the door to better educational opportunities for the underserved youth through a tutoring group called Flyte Scholastics, which helps students at St. Martin de Porres Academy and other schools. She also plays a role in furthering the education of schoolchildren and helping adults as a literacy volunteer.
Flyte Takes Off
Her dedication to the future of underserved children was sparked when she and her son, Bobby, who was then a high school junior, were in search of a tutoring service to help him prepare for the SAT. They found Mike Newcomer of Bulldog Tutors to help them.
But in the process, Sarah and Bobby realized that the service they were able to obtain was not readily available to schoolchildren whose families could not afford the cost.
They set out to do something about it.
“When my son was trying to help people who can’t afford this, he went to Mike and Bulldog Tutors because this was something he did,” she explains. “So, we started this company and we thought, ‘Well, as far as tutors in the area, let’s go to Yale.’”
Thus, in 2013, Flyte, which was named by Bobby, took off with the goal of providing free SAT, ACT, and after-school tutoring to students in New Haven.
The following year, Flyte began recruiting tutor volunteers from Yale University and launched its first year of tutoring with Common Ground High School.
“I used to pick them up at Yale and drive them,” Sarah recalls. “We’d go to Bruegger’s Bagels, get some bagels, drive them over to Common Ground, and students would come in for SAT prep. And I have to say the tutors were terrific. I was so lucky to have all the tutors at Flyte.”
Sarah says that the first year saw eight to nine Yale tutors helping the children at Common Ground.
In 2015, with the help of one of the tutors, Emma Sonenson, Flyte Scholastics began tutoring at St. Martin de Porres Academy, where the group began helping students for Secondary SAT prep. In addition, Flyte started a tradition of reciprocating the service of the volunteer tutors with appreciation dinners called Flyte Nights, which happen in the fall and the spring.
Sarah and her husband Bob would invite professionals to talk about careers the tutors were interested in. This was their way to help the Yale undergraduates who volunteer their time to tutor the students.
“On a Flyte Night, my husband and I ask the tutors, ‘What are you interested in a career?’ So we bring people that we know during a Flyte Night so they could talk to them,” Sarah explains.
In 2016, Flyte started adding tutors and showed signs of continued growth. Today, Flyte Scholastics is listed as one of Yale’s student service groups for undergraduates to join. Flyte’s board members now include Sarah’s husband Bob and their grown children, Bobby and Abigail, as well as Mike Newcomer and Emma Sonenson.
Educating Youth and Adults
Sarah is also involved at St. Martin de Porres as a board member. She actively works in admissions and scholarship interviews, and recently helped organize the school’s annual auction.
“St. Martin de Porres is a really well-run school,” Sarah says. “It tracks you all the way to college. So it’s not just 5th through 8th grade. They want to get you so you’re out of college and you’re in the working world. So it’s really a lifetime effort,” she adds.
But Sarah’s involvement with education started in Madison where she and her family have lived for 25 years. She began working early on as a paraprofessional for Ryerson Elementary School when Bobby was in 3rd grade and Abigail in 1st.
She enjoyed her work with the children at Ryerson because, she says, she learned from the children, too.
“I guess I would say I learned that every student is really independent. You want to let each student grow. I think every student has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. They have their own individuality—how they learn, how they relate to people. So, I think it’s very interesting because I learned a lot about patience. And you’ve got to have a sense of humor,” she says.
Later, when Bobby entered Hopkins School in New Haven, Sarah began helping adults as a literacy volunteer in Westbrook.
“I worked with adults who knew English as their second language,” she says.
“The most important thing I thought was to teach them how to be better at their jobs,” she explains. “You’re going to want to know what is pertinent, what information or what words you need to know to make your job better.
“I found that the people who were most motivated were the parents who had younger children who were in grade school…I think it meant a lot for the parents to be able to speak to their kids in English and understand what was going in school. So that was a big motivator,” she adds.
She worked as a literacy volunteer from 2009 to 2012.
Today, Sarah continues to work with children as a substitute teacher with the Madison public schools.
Although she sees how young students learn independently, she is also pleased to witness a sense of collaboration and team work that even kindergartners manifest in the classroom—a sense of team work she also witnesses with Yale undergraduates at Flyte working together to tutor middle- and high-school students.
“This was kindergarten. And I love to see that, where there is team effort in the classroom. You’re not like individuals, you’re a team, you’re a classroom. You all work together,” she says.
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