Crone Middle School: The power of community

Meet Allan Davenport, Principal of Crone Middle School in Naperville, Chicago. Davenport rallied his students and community to raise $25,000 to build a school in Ghana. During the campaign, Crone Middle School was featured in the Chicago Tribune and visited by mayor A. George Pradel!

Davenport speaking with Crone students. Photo: Gary Gibula, for the Chicago Tribune

What do you do?

I’m the Principal at Crone Middle School, but I don’t view myself as a principal; I view myself as a teacher. If I could change my title to “Chief Teacher,” I would. I’m still involved with the kids. The students know me at Crone MS — we have 1,200 kids — and they all know who I am because I’m in the classrooms and I’m out and about, constantly.

How did you first hear about PoP?

I read the book The Promise of a Pencil last summer. Based on reading that, I started digging in more to the organization and that’s how I became aware of it.

What inspired you to start a PoP campaign?

The book itself was personally inspiring. Every year as Principal, I select a theme of the year with our staff. I was trying to develop the theme for this last school year and settled on “What will your verse be?” It tied in so nicely to Adam’s book and the whole Pencils of Promise mission. I realized I could do something school-wide that really made this theme come to life for the students and show them it has real life application for everyone. It was a great way to unite our community and allowed me to accomplish several of the goals I had set for the year already. Everything just connected nicely — I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that way.

How did Crone Middle School fundraise?

My goal with fundraising was to really put it on to the students. I knew as adults we could raise $25K, but I wanted to see what the kids could come up with. We had so many different fundraising activities because the kids came up with creative ideas to raise awareness — anything from group fundraising such as the basketball team’s “free throw-a-thon,” to arranging a 5K race over Thanksgiving weekend, to kids donating their allowance, to car washes, cookie sales, cleaning services. You name it — the kids came up with it.

We also talked a lot about the power of networking, and how that’s such an important skill as they grow up and enter the real world. Beyond raising funds, you can still make a difference by raising awareness. Making a contribution doesn’t have to be financial. We had a lot of kids who personally didn’t donate a dime, but by raising awareness, others in their network donated hundreds of dollars.

Crone students filled out cards outlining what they would do to contribute to the effort to build a school in Ghana. Photo: Gary Gibula, for the Chicago Tribune

What was your favorite fundraising activity/story?

We have a student with special needs who came in to my office with $1.37 in an envelope. He handed it to me and said, “Here; this is for the kids in Ghana.” That one really touched me because I knew he didn’t have a lot. The campaign really impacted every single kid at this school — no matter who they were.

It may have been a small amount, but I knew it meant so much to that kid to be able to contribute. That story in particular sticks out to me.

What is your favorite school-related memory?

Like many people, I just had one teacher that inspired me to start paying attention and doing better in school. As a teacher, I found myself teaching very similar to this teacher’s style. This had a profound impact on me and made me realize I could reach out to so many kids. For me, it wasn’t one singular event with that teacher that impacted me — it was a daily thing that inspired me to do something with my education. It proved to me that if you can connect with kids, you can get them to do anything.

Crone Middle School students with Naperville’s mayor, A. George Pradel.

What does education mean to you?

Education means inspiring kids, students or adults to do things they didn’t realize they could do. So many students are easily frustrated or might be having a hard time in school, but once you get them to believe they can do it, everything changes. When I told our students we were going to raise $25K to build a school in Ghana, everyone looked at me like I was crazy… but then we did it. Now they’re all thinking, what can we do next? Education is all about constantly sparking that motivation within a student to realize his or her own potential.

What’s your life motto?

“You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” It just applies to so many different areas in life. You might as well ask, because you never know what you might get. I don’t know how many times in my life that’s served me well.

What’s your current passion?

I’ve got so many! I’m really just trying to invest time into challenging myself to look at new ways to think about things. I’ve been really into TED Talks lately — particularly Simon Sinek’s. There’s such a mix of opinion and ideas. I particularly love the ones that focus on the power of leadership.

Do you have any advice for other PoP campaigners?

With anything that you do, you have to make it real to your constituents, customers, students or your network in general. I worked hard to make that emotional connection between Crone students and the students they’re helping in Ghana. I blew up life-size photos of the students in the community in Ghana and posted them at the entrance of the school when the kids walked in. We also had parents come in who were from Ghana and talk to the kids to help keep that emotional connection alive throughout. When people are emotionally connected to something, they will be so much more inspired to do it and see it through to the end.

Davenport placed photos of Ghanian students at the entrance of Crone Middle School to inspire his students.

Anything else you’d like to share with the PoP family?

One of the biggest reasons this was successful for us was because of the power of community. As principal, one of my guiding principles is that Crone Middle School is a community — we’re not just students and teachers. It’s my fifth year at this school and I’ve made it a priority to engage the community: including parents, local businesses and corporations in any way possible. Once the kids got on board with the Pencils of Promise campaign, I made an effort to engage the surrounding community and challenged the kids to engage community as well. Once our entire community got behind this, the outpouring of support was incredible. It was great to see the whole community come together to make this happen.

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Visit Crone Middle School’s campaign page: