She seemed destined to be just another at-risk statistic, on a path to increasingly destructive behavior born of a troubled home life, poverty, abuse, and neglect. But along the way, one caring church family and a devoted elementary art teacher stepped in and changed everything. Seeing the potential behind the little girl’s anger and arguments, these compassionate adults reached out, pulling her back from the edge to live a life filled with contribution and near-storybook success.
In 2016, Darbie Valenti was named Missouri State Teacher of the Year, representing Missouri’s 70,689 teachers and joining a select group of just 45 individuals awarded the honor since 1957. Today Valenti teaches fifth-grade science and mathematics at Minnie Cline Elementary in Savannah, Missouri. Not surprisingly, she’s committed to paying it forward, affording each of her students the same kind of hand up that made the difference in her own life. “My mission is to find and showcase the greatness in every student,” says Valenti.
“My mission is to find and showcase the greatness in every student.” – Darbie Valenti
Renaissance® solutions have been in Valenti’s teaching toolkit for 14 of the 15 years she’s been an educator. The one year without, at a school that had not yet implemented Renaissance technology? “Difficult,” says Valenti. “Without good data, measuring comprehension means time-consuming trial and error. At that point we relied on book reports to assess reading skills. Some students would fill out reports without actually reading the books, and some parents couldn’t resist the temptation to ‘help.’ Traditional programs don’t facilitate individualized goal-setting. Basal readers, for example, require the entire class to work on the exact same skill at the same time, regardless of individual student proficiency. In my experience, reliance on those programs means primarily reaching students in the middle of the performance curve—and missing both struggling and advanced learners. Teachers need faster, more reliable methods to be able to develop appropriate instruction and practice activities.”
Success for every bunny—and moose and owl and…
Today, K-5 teachers across Minnie Cline Elementary use Renaissance Star Reading® and Renaissance Star Math® for quarterly benchmark assessments. These solutions and the Renaissance Accelerated Reader® learning program have been adopted across all four Savannah R-III district elementary schools, as well as at Savannah Middle School.
Star assessments allow educators to more readily identify students struggling with particular skills, enabling targeted assignment of reinforcement tasks. Teachers also utilize Star analytics data in conjunction with tools from Compass Learning to personalize learning paths.
With a nod to George Reavis’s The Animal School fable, Valenti says while not everyone can be an excellent swimmer—just ask a rabbit—we each have valuable skills to contribute. “My students understand that just like you can’t judge all animals on how well they swim, you can’t expect every student to be great at every subject—but everyone can improve and grow.”
“My students understand that just like you can’t judge all animals on how well they swim, you can’t expect every student to be great at every subject—but everyone can improve and grow.” – Darbie Valenti
We love to read
“Renaissance programs provide a wealth of usable data to help teachers better understand student performance—including anomalies,” continues Valenti. “Just recently, for example, I observed that one of my students consistently scored lower on reading tests than you’d expect from classroom performance. We tracked progress on his Accelerated Reader Student Record Report, ultimately determining that the problem stemmed from test anxiety, not comprehension difficulties. Using Renaissance, we’re never tied to a single output, but rather can access a variety of analytical data to challenge every student to achieve at full potential.”
“This program truly fosters a love of reading—we see our students voluntarily pick up their books at every opportunity. They’re self-motivated, challenged to earn points, and celebrated in their successes. As a result, students are more likely to stay on task, avoid behavior problems, and continue to develop the reading skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.”
And we’re all in this together
After a record 56 detentions and 24 days of suspension in her own eighth-grade year, Darbie Valenti completed her high school education without one offense. Earning a degree and certification in elementary education and art, she became her family’s first-ever college graduate. She sees the same potential for recovery and accomplishment in her students, investing her many talents to reach each one and using tools like Renaissance applications to personalize learning. “I strive to build relationships and to not let any child slip through my fingers. I call them ‘little Darbies’—whatever their challenges, I want each one to know that there is always someone who believes in them.”
To read the full version of Darbie’s incredible success story, head over to our success stories page.
How do you help your students be the best they can be? Let us know in the comments!