Posted: Dec 15, 2003 9:49 am
INSPIRING FORGOTTEN ONES
from the Commercial Appeal
AMID the weed-choked lots and the abandoned, crumbling homes, Room 128 at Ida B. Wells Academy is an island of what is good and alive in this dreary stretch along Firestone Boulevard in north Memphis.
Here, teacher Judy Peebles stokes imagination and nurtures knowledge.
This is where eighth-grader Ike Bobo learned to read. He came to Peebles two years ago with a chip on his shoulder and a fear of words.
The student, who then could barely read kindergarten books, is now reading at the fifth-grade level, and writing books with pictures for kindergartners.
In Peebles's classroom, "no child left behind" isn't federal law - it's a philosophy.
For her work with students like Ike, Peebles is among only 25 educators nationwide to make USA Today's 2003 All-USA Teacher Team. Along with the accolade, she won $500 for herself and a $2,000 award for the school.
The Memphis school board will honor Peebles today.
It's Peebles's relationship with students that got her noticed - and sets her apart. She works with a delicate group, whose interest in learning is fragile. The wrong type of teaching style can turn these kids off school completely.
She teaches about 10 children who are at least two years behind, and whose discipline problems and learning disorders got in the way of success.
She says they are "the forgotten ones" - "the ones people have cast aside and given up on."
In her first step to elevating students' interest - and their learning - Peebles has them perform activities that give them a sense of purpose.
She asks students to write autobiographical poems at the beginning of school. This supports her philosophy: "When students know who they are, they do better."
She also gets them involved in charity work. For their lifetimes, many of these children were told there was something wrong with them, Peebles says. Charity work gives them a wider perspective and shows them there are many others who are in greater need.
Then comes the hard-core stuff: math, English, grammar. Because most of her students are male, she uses information about the Grizzlies professional basketball players to teach them the basics.
A lesson in grammar means editing an essay on Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown. A math class on calculating percentages uses the number of field goals attempted by Grizzlies' players compared with the field goals made.
"If I just gave them random numbers it wouldn't keep their attention," Peebles says. "This way, they forget they're learning math, and think they're just learning about the Grizzlies."
After seeing that most of her students have attention-deficit disorders, she also does something called "chunking" - breaking up the material into manageable sections and spending no more than 15 minutes doing one activity.
These methods have helped spike students' interest and test scores. On average, her students' scores on the TCAP have increased by 10 to 15 percent.
Seventh-grader Reginald Buckner, an eager learner who wriggles his hands in the air to answer questions, says his grades have gone from F's to C's.
"She's nice," he says softly, shy in front of grownups other than his favorite teacher, Peebles, and his mother. "She helps us with our work."
She is proud of what she's done with her students, Peebles says, adding she hasn't done it alone. She has regular conferences with parents, either in school, or through phone calls and home visits.
"I think parents are always scared of teachers because they usually only call with bad news, but I call to say 'Nice job,' and I think they trust me because of that," Peebles said.
- Ruma Banerji Kumar: 529-2596