TURNER — When classes abruptly moved to remote learning in March 2020, Leavitt Area High School history teacher Isaiah Davis and a few of his fellow staff members pivoted from broadcasting school sports events to hosting a daily morning talk show.

The production was fun, silly and informative — exactly the kind of thing members of the school community needed to feel connected, Jennifer Groover, a third grade teacher at Leeds Central School, said.

“At a time when when things were very scary, where teachers would want to be reaching out to our kids and supporting our kids the most, we couldn’t,” she said. “We didn’t have the means to connect, and there was Mr. Davis, and he and his team at Buzz Media found a way to create their morning talk show.”

Davis, who has taught in Maine School Administrative District 52 for more than two decades, was awarded the Patience W. Norman Prize for Teacher Excellence this month in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the school community.

The honor, which comes with a $5,000 award, is given annually to an MSAD 52 teacher who displays “unusual impact and effectiveness in the classroom” and “creativity and innovation in teaching,” according to the evaluation criteria.

“They were on YouTube, and they were talking to everybody in the district, and what has traditionally been something that was just for Leavitt Area High School, suddenly they were doing things for the entire district,” she said. “Dress-up days, snowman-making contests,” and interviewing students and staff.

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Groover, who nominated him for the award, said Davis is an excellent teacher. She’s been impressed by his energetic teaching style and the imaginative assignments her two oldest daughters have brought home from class.

“You can’t help but be just drawn in to what he’s doing,” she said. “He can make the most mundane history lesson that you know, you just want to be part of it, you want to put on a silly dress and be part of his new (project). That’s why he’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of teacher.”

But his actions outside of the classroom have stood out to her and other members of the school community just as much, if not more, than his lessons, she said.

History teacher Isaiah Davis connects with students through Buzz Media, a video production class that covers activities at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The daily morning shows have mostly stopped, but Davis continues making silly videos with the Buzz Media team, a collective of students and staff who broadcast school sporting events, concerts and other events in the district. One of these videos, titled “Go it old Plow,”  retells the life of Leavitt Area High School’s founder and benefactor, James Madison Leavitt.

In the entertaining seven minute musical, Davis plays Leavitt, an unwilling farmer from Turner who left Maine to make his fortune selling umbrellas. Now, teachers often play the video on the first day of class to teach students about the school’s history, rather than making them read an informational blurb.

“Really, I end up getting a lot of credit for stuff here, but it’s always things I’m involved with with a bunch of other people,” Davis said. “We have an awesome community, and we have people that really like to get involved in things … I was that kid in school who liked to do group projects and I like to do the presenting at the end. So a lot of times, my face gets on it, but really I’m working with a bunch of other people that are all doing it, and they’re doing as much as I am.”

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Davis is humble, Groover said. Although he works closely with other staff on these projects, she called him the “fun mischief-maker of the bunch.”

But his contributions to the school community aren’t limited to his teaching and video production activities.

After 46-year-old African American George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest May 25, 2020, Groover reached out to Davis as the high school network leader for social studies to ask what she and other educators in the district could do to “learn and grow and become better.”

“We have all these colleagues who are watching this history unfold, and we didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “He made it happen, he went to the right people.”

Soon, there were teams of teachers from prekindergarten to grade 12 facilitating discussions around shared readings over Zoom.

“Nobody was being paid for this,” she said. “It wasn’t about professional development and getting paid, this was about teachers who cared very deeply and wanted to do better for our communities and do better for our kids.”

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“It was incredible, and he was a big leader in that and making that happen, and he won’t take credit,” she continued. “He’ll hear a good idea or he’ll come up with a good idea and he’s willing to go the extra mile to make it happen, and then he’ll never take credit for it … He’s very humble that way. But he really is always the one willing to go the extra mile to make it happen.”

 

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As for the money, Davis said he plans to put the majority of it toward building a driveway on land he recently purchased.

“I’m gonna have to name my driveway after Patience Norman, give her some credit,” he joked.

A core purpose of the Patience W. Norman Prize is to promote teacher retention by recognizing outstanding contributions to the school community. But Davis said the school environment already encourages students and teachers to stick around.

Davis is a graduate of MSAD 52, hailing from Turner. He is far from the only Leavitt Area High School graduate who has chosen to come back and teach, he said. Many of the teachers in the district were graduates, including four of the six teachers involved with Buzz Media.

“That definitely keeps this a special place,” he said. “You have a lot of people that, they’re not just in it for a job or a paycheck or even about education. We’re here because we have such a cool community where people can do these … fun interesting creative things that are not about just following the standards.”

Davis said he is happy to work for a school with staff who “go along with and even encourage some of the more ridiculous schemes, plots, plans that I come up with.”


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