Class Acts: A Q&A with Gloria Bracco

Paulette Roberson nominated Gloria Bracco for Class Acts. Roberson said Bracco is an exemplary teacher who has consistently made a difference in her classroom, her school and her community. She is a role model to many, and many of her former students return to visit with her, Roberson said.

• Name: Gloria Bracco

• Age: Over 55

• City of residence: Modesto native

• Occupation: First-grade teacher at California Avenue School, Riverbank

• Family: Husband, Ed Rusca, a farmer

• Educational background: Modesto Junior College; bachelor's degree and teaching credential from California State University, Chico; and Bilingual, Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development certificate from San Joaquin County Office of Education

• Teaching experience: Forty years with Riverbank Unified School District: three years at Cardozo School, 17 at Rio Altura School and 20 at California Avenue School

Why did you get into teaching? I've always enjoyed being around young children. I can influence and be a part of the magic age of 6- and 7-year-olds by being a first-grade teacher. It is beautiful to be a part of that, as the children are sponges for information. In addition, I had a wonderful first-grade teacher, Mildred Perkins at Salida Union School, who inspired me so much.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? When the children's eyes light up with the understanding of the concept I am trying to teach and they tell me "I know how to do it" or "I know the answer" — these are the true "aha" moments that I treasure, for then I know I have reached that child.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Getting a full lesson a day in for our Open Court Reading Program. I always feel I need more minutes in the day to accomplish full understanding of the concept presented in each lesson. We do a lesson a day and sometimes our pacing schedule just goes too fast for a first-grader and especially our English- language learners.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? Enjoy each day I am with the children in the classroom and make it as much fun in the learning process as I can for them. Also, it takes teamwork with parents and colleagues to make teaching all happen smoothly.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? I love using white boards with my students because I have instant feedback in answers. I also love to have the children sing songs each morning as it gets us all in a good mood, and I really love to read to the children right after lunch. I use voices, puppets, flannel graph stories (this really dates me) and headpieces to help my story line. My joy is having the children tell me, "Read it again!" I also love our Accelerated Reading Program, in which the children enjoy reading a favorite book and then taking a little test on the computer to check for understanding.

What's next in your classroom? We are starting to get all excited about Christmas, and we will be writing our great letters to Santa. We will be doing a great lesson in health and nutrition for the month of December.

What advice do you have for students? Never give up and always do your best job in all that you do. Don't forget to turn in your homework and read a good book at night to Mom and Dad.

What advice do you have for parents? Get involved in your child's education and stress to your child the importance of a good education in the world today. I have great parent volunteers in my classroom and some who take home projects to finish for me. Family discussions around the dinner table of what went on in each person's day are a great way to reconnect. In addition, parents, please read to your children each night. You are their role model in everything you do and they need to listen and feel from you the importance of reading a book at home.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? We need to continue to keep our primary grades at class-size-reduction levels so teachers feel they are reaching each child. Sacramento needs to fund all areas of education so current programs can continue and many programs dropped because of a lack of funds can be reinstated. Our after-school program is so successful and beneficial for the child and continues to have a long waiting list. We are waiting for funding for our after-school tutoring program to begin so more children will be reached.

How do you try to reach students not interested in school? I try to find what interests the child the most, use that in some way to motivate him or her, and, of course, offer lots of individual and class praise for the child to build self-esteem. Even little jobs assigned to the student in the classroom can be a great motivator for children, as they feel important and a contributing member to the class.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Speaking from a primary teacher viewpoint, I would have to say reading, as it is the key to everything now and in their future. We need to get early intervention programs in place for the child who struggles in this area to try to get them at grade level quickly.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? I think less weekly testing of the young ones in their reading and math would bring back lots more smiles on their faces and mine. I am all for testing as long as it produces the result of knowing if the child grasped the concept, but to test each week on the same concept is a bit redundant. Teaching materials need to be graduated in content and not leap from one concept to another too quickly for the young mind. It seems as though our teaching materials require the child to learn more things earlier and earlier each year.

What would surprise people about your job? Teaching does not end when I walk out of the classroom door at the end of the day. I am constantly re-evaluating the day and how I could have improved it or what great thing I need to do for the next day. There is always a lot of preparation for the day as well as homework to correct. In addition, of course, there is our own personal money spent to replenish needed items for the classroom our school no longer buys for us.

What are your future plans? The big R — Retirement!