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October 6, 2005

Penn State ... Notre Dame ... Claymont High ... Salesianum ... P.S. du Pont ... Hanby Middle

So it's a stretch to list a middle school in such company. But, in the nearly 40 years it has been providing pre-high school education, Hanby has accumulated a rather sizeable alumni, most of whom have positive feelings toward it. And, if the public effort in the summer of 2004 to turn back a proposal to close the school

and tear down the building is any indication, there is even a 'subway alumni' of neighbors radiating out from the Chalfonte-Brandywine-Grubb Road community.

More to the point, Hanby students have consistently performed well in various academic competitions and, in recent years, compiled Delaware State Testing Program scores that have been among the best in the state. In the spring, 2005, round of testing, just shy of a third of Hanby's students were rated as 'distinguished' in mathematics. The number meeting or exceeding state standards was comfortably above average in reading and writing as well as math.

"If you set high expectations for all kids, they'll rise to those expectations," said Hanby principal Ron Mendenhall.

Like a succession of principals before him, Mendenhall -- now beginning his third year at Hanby -- is committed not only to

Photo courtesy of Brandywine School District

Principal Rob Mendenhall (left) and assistant principal Ken Napaver serve students from teachers Nancy Walls's and Ken Napaver's homerooms. Breakfast was the reward for those classes having tied in raising the most money for relief of Hurricane Katrina victims.

upholding the school's academic reputation but also maintaining the spirit which has stretched over two generations going back to the old Alfred I. du Pont Special School District. Children of former students are among the 737 current students.

More than 40% of the students are voluntarily involved in the 26 extracurricular activities that are offered. They include boys and girls sports, a jazz group, foreign language club and technology association. Planned for next spring is a production of Fiddler on the Roof, a musical that is particularly ambitious for a cast of young teens.

The youngsters' responsiveness was demonstrated recently when home rooms raised nearly $3,000 for relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.

The 45-membrer faculty, Mendenhall said, is a near ideal mix of age and experience, about evenly divided among those new to the profession or the Brandywine district, those in mid-career and veterans.

Mendenhall himself came to Hanby after retiring as a principal in the Salem, N.J., district. He served 30 years as a teacher and administrator -- all of them at the middle school level. While an apparent majority of educators consider young adolescents to be the most challenging charge in the profession, he said he regards it as the most satisfying.

His 'secret': the three 'R's.

That stands for "rigor, relevance and relationship."

The first two, he said, involve raising the bar in what's expected in the classroom while making the topic relevant to the youngsters' lives. "You try to make the subject matter consistent with what the kids already know about," he said. It's not pushing too hard, for instance, to associate traditional English-class poetry with rap music.

Beyond that, "relationship is the big thing," he said. The aim is to get to know both students and their parents on a basis which, if not quite casual is not stiff or formal.

"Even the most difficult kids will respond if you say something kind to them or show interest in them," he said. A compliment about a student's appearance or an inquiry about a pet goes a long way toward establish rapport.

He practices that himself and is encouraging Hanby teachers this academic year to "take three or four [students] under their wings." They will be selected as being youngsters in need of additional encouragement and support, he said.

CLICK HERE to access Delaware Department of Education profile of Hanby Middle School (Enter 'Brandywine School District' and 'Hanby Middle School' in the first search block.).

At the recent 'state of the district' breakfast, Brandywine district superintendent Bruce Harter remarked that he would favor extending the traditional six-hour school day. While he acknowledged that the idea is not likely to go very far very soon in Delaware, Boston, Springfield, Cambridge and at least 17 other Massachusetts school districts are going that route, with a possibility it'll happen as early as next year. The Massachusetts Department of Education is providing grants to support exploration of the idea. CLICK HERE to read the Boston Globe article.

In a major policy address delivered to the National Endowment for Democracy on Oct. 6, President Bush said Islamic radicals are seeking to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world," and called that a prime reason not to cut and run in Iraq. The speech was a comprehensive expression of his current views about the 'war on terror' and related topics. CLICK HERE to read the full text on the White House website.

When a new state law goes into effect in Connecticut on Oct. 8, drivers will have to keep their eyes on the road. One of the toughest in the nation, it goes beyond just prohibiting drivers from using hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel. If pulled over for speeding or other moving violations, they can be fined $100 for glancing at a newspaper, typing on a Black Berry, applying lipstick while looking in the rearview mirror or turning to yell at the kids in the back seat. MORE

2005. All rights reserved.

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