Students at Calvin Donaldson Elementary School have published a 30-page book of student prose, poetry and art.
At first blush, it might not seem unique. Students at other schools have produced literary magazines for years.
But Calvin Donaldson teachers say the recently published book represents a monumental step forward for the inner-city elementary school that has for years struggled in reading and writing.
"We started telling the kids that they are writers, that they have a unique story to tell," said Kim Honeycutt, the school's writing coach. "There was a domino effect that changed the climate of the school."
Students started keeping notebooks in which they wrote about life, and this year they compiled their work into the literary magazine.
Titled "Black and Bright," after a student's poem by the same name, the name also is a message to the community.
"When people think of Calvin Donaldson they think ghetto, dumb, violent, and we don't want them to think that," said Erianna Hicks, a fifth-grader and the magazine's editor-in-chief.
The school's enrollment is more than 90 percent black, and most students come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods such as Alton Park, Richmond and Oak Hill. Nearly all receive free- or reduced-price lunches, a common measure of poverty in school systems.
For years, Calvin Donaldson students lagged in reading and writing test scores. About half its students did not read or write on grade level in 2006, according to state test scores.
That year, a team of teachers headed by Honeycutt decided to change the pattern. Each year since, the school has improved its test scores, rising from 50 percent proficient in 2006 to 83 percent in 2010, state data shows.
This year, according to Honeycutt, the school had its best scores yet, but official data wasn't available this week. She credits the improved scores to an altered culture that made writing "cool."
Students say they see the change, too.
"Mostly everyone in third, fourth and fifth grade had an entry in the book," said Antquinisha Lane, a fifth-grader and the magazine's managing editor. "It made them happy that they were in it."
Reading and writing became as cool as physical education, art and music, the student editors say. At the school's honors day last week, the magazines were distributed to students and parents.
"Once the word got out about the book, everyone wanted to be in it," said production editor Eric Holland, also a fifth-grader. "They started coming up to us saying, 'Put us in the book, put us in the book.'"