Zada and her mom at AF Hartford Academy Elementary

On this year’s state test, Zada made the most progress of any Achievement First Connecticut student, growing at least 2 proficiency levels in both ELA and math. We sat down with Zada, now a fifth-grader at AF Hartford Academy Middle, and her mother Symanther, to learn more about her and her success.

What did you think when you heard Zada’s results?

Symanther: I was not just surprised, I was shocked. Zada always said to me, ‘Mommy, I am going to do better, I’m going to push myself.’ At first, I thought she wasn’t going to be pushed too hard because she has a disability. When she was born, the doctors told me she wouldn’t walk, and she would have a learning disability, because she has cerebral palsy. There is stuff she doesn’t get, and she’ll get mad, but we push her. I always tell her not to let it deter her, and that it won’t pull her down. She walks, she does lots of things, and she made the most progress. I am so proud.

Zada: It was great. I was surprised, because usually my brother (twin Zane) gets the best scores. I was really excited to talk to my mom about it. I hugged my teacher and said, ‘Thank you for pushing me.’

What are Zada’s favorite parts of school? How has she changed during her time at AF Hartford Academy Elementary?

Zada: I like ELA, but I also like math because my teachers make it fun to learn. They teach me division and multiplication. It’s challenging to me, but I get through it. My teacher, Ms. Ewing, would go around the class helping people. She gave me the confidence and feedback to keep working which makes me stronger.

Symanther: I am so proud of how far she has come. From her first day at AF in kindergarten, she was behind, she felt left out, and I would be asked to come to the school because she was misbehaving and not listening. She started to get better and better, and in second grade, she really came into her own. I started noticing that there were no problems with her behavior. Now to see her recognized – not just for the state test, but she got an award at fourth grade graduation – I don’t want it to stop there. I want to keep pushing her in middle school and high school and college. This is the first step to the rest of her life.

What’s next for Zada?

Zada: When I grow up I want to be an artist or a cook. I help my dad bake bread, and I help my mom get ingredients and cook a meal. I also like being an artist because it takes a lot practice to figure out how to make art, but when you get the hang of it, you feel success. I like to draw all different kinds of things, and then paint my drawings after I finish them.

Symanther: Right now I am trying to figure out my career—I am studying nursing—and I want my kids to do better than me. I have seen big progress in Zada’s reading, and that’s a big priority in my house. She’ll learn new words and through reading and education, she’ll have a better life. This is just the beginning. We are going to continue to push her and tell her she can do even better.

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