Success Story: Finding and showcasing the greatness in every student

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


The challenge: individualize goals and instruction

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.”

The results: growth, obsessive readers, camaraderie

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.”

How do you help your students be the best they can be? Let us know in the comments! To read the full version of Darbie’s incredible success story, head over to our success stories page.

Curious to learn more about Star assessments? Explore Renaissance Star 360®.


  1. Ivy says:

    Woot woot, Missouri! Keep up the good work, Ms. Valenti!

  2. Rita Platt says:

    This makes my heart sing!!! YAY!!!!

  3. Chimere McRae says:

    This was heart-warming! You definitely can not judge a book by its cover.

  4. Dvawn Maza says:

    I always try to make them know they are intelligent. Any answer, I try to find how they arrived at that answer and make it positive. I do not ever criticize and answer, but show them another way to look at it.

  5. David Keech says:

    Students need to feel comfortable with taking risks in their learning and know that mistakes are valued. Just as important, school is more effective when kids are having fun and laughing, on a daily basis. Sense of humor and laughing each day in class is important. Laughter helps us relax as learners and allows the brain to learn at its best.

  6. Belinda says:

    Great work

  7. Carly says:

    I just want to give a shout out to teachers of the arts. Too often art programs are cut or deemed as extraneous. This story exemplifies the role a fabulous art teacher played in the life of a child who, now as an adult, is inspiring more children. While I might usually credit other things I do to help students be successful, I feel like extolling all the ways I integrate the arts. We sing and dance to help learn our multiplication facts. We draw and do skits to help tell stories in math as well as reading. I proudly work at an A+ school, so I work closely with our specialists. Sometimes a project we are doing in the classroom is enhanced by an activity done in art, music, theater, or even P.E. While art integration has become more of a challenge as testing mandates have increased, art integration is essential for inspiring students – especially those who struggle – to love coming to school – to love learning.

  8. Christina says:

    great job!!!

  9. P R says:

    It is so wonderful to hear an exciting story about someone who overcame an obstacle to achieve academically.

  10. Renee Graham says:

    This story is so encouraging and validates how I feel about RenLearn. So many names come to mind that have stories just like Darbie’s in elementary school. Thank you for sharing this story.

  11. Lura says:

    Keep it up our students need teachers like you in their lives!

  12. Colleen says:

    Teachers who find the spark can ignite greatness in any child.

  13. Narda Lugo says:

    Awesome, letting all students their uniqueness is was makes them perfect! ?

  14. Fatima Peters says:

    Ms. Valenti is what you call a true inspiration!! Such a motivating story! Keep up the good work!

  15. Melissa Robles says:

    Thank you for sharing this brings happiness to my heart.

  16. Francine Canarios says:

    Making personal connections with our students is the best motivation we can give our students. Children will work hard to reach goals for educators they know care.

  17. Carolina says:

    Love to hear these kind of stories!

  18. Jennifer Slade says:

    My second grade teacher Mrs. Redmond is a teacher I’ll never forget. She believed in me and I can’t thank her enough. I can spend my life teaching and will never live up to her greatness.

  19. Katherine Williams says:

    This is such an inspiring story– on many levels. We never know who we will inspire or whose life we will change with one kind word in our classroom.

    I attended a small Catholic school growing up. Our teachers team-taught so 4-6th grade I had the same teachers for ELA, math, science, and social studies. Those teachers got to know me as a person and were really another set of mothers to me. I am so thankful for them and the support that they provided.

  20. Virginia Wiedenfeld says:

    Enjoyed the article! Teaching without Renaissance is difficult! It is wonderful to read the story of another teacher.

  21. Amber AuBain says:

    Great story! I will never forget my 6th grade Math teacher. I moved to a new middle school in the middle of the year and was behind in some of the math standards. She worked with me to get to me caught up. I never forgot her kindness and how great of a teacher she was.

  22. Lisa Capon says:

    Love stories like this. It is very motivating to hear this as a teacher. Thanks!

  23. R Smith says:

    Awesome story!

  24. Lee Houston says:

    Great work!

  25. Kelsie says:

    What a great story! Thank you for sharing!

  26. Kristina says:

    Keep up the great work! We are shaping the future and it’s looking bright!

  27. Christy Brooks says:

    Congrats on Teacher of the Year from a fellow SHOW-ME teacher! Keep up the great work