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Ask an Expert: Meeting the needs of at-risk students.

Q. What is the biggest hurdle you see to ensuring that all students – specifically those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are successful at school? What can teachers do better? Parents? Community members?

EdNews Parent expert Justin Darnell, the 2010 Colorado Teacher of the Year and a teacher at Bryant-Webster K-8 in Denver, talks about how he finds ways to engage and motivate his seventh grade science students, most of whom are considered “high risk” or “underserved.” They’re mostly Hispanic and from low-income families.

In this video, he touches on why he believes so strongly in his students and in the art of teaching. For Darnell, the key elements to a quality education are a quality instructional practice and a strong team of teachers and staff at each grade level who have adequate time for collaboration. He also can’t stress enough the importance of learning as much as possible about each student and incorporating the interests of each student into the curriculum.

Right now, his students are filming and editing videos to demonstrate their understanding of the human body. If a student is into skateboarding, or music, or basketball, he can use his interest to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject matter, Darnell says.

His main goal is to find the common ground.

“There is more in common than there is in difference,” he says, during a recent interview before class.

Darnell also talks about the importance of parent involvement in schools and why parents should ask lots of questions of teachers and administrators – and help their children hone their organizational skills.

Finally, Darnell talks about the topic on everyone’s minds these days: teacher effectiveness, and how to measure it using more criteria than only test scores.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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