Class Acts: A Q&A with Claudia Navarro

Roberta Hernandez nominated Claudia Navarro for Class Acts. Hernandez said Navarro is selfless in her roles as dual immersion teacher and PTSA member. Navarro sacrifices her time so students will benefit and often stays late. Hernandez said she can't wait until her children have Navarro as their teacher.

Name: Claudia G. Navarro

Age: 26

City of residence: Oakdale

Occupation: Sixth-grade teacher at Riverbank Language Academy

Family: Husband, Jose Martin Paredes; and children, Jocelyn and Ignacio

Education background: Modesto Junior College; bachelor's degree and Bilingual, Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development credential from California State University, Stanislaus.

Teaching experience: Two years

Why did you get into teaching? I had several teachers who inspired me to become an educator, but the ones who had the biggest impact were Mrs. Bradley, who genuinely cared about her students and ran a happy classroom, Mr. King, who believed in me, and Madame Verhasselt, who was passionate about teaching and made her classroom come to life. If I could morph these three individuals into one, that would be the epitome of what I aspire to be.

What is your favorite part about being a teacher? I get to work with students who are creative, funny and full of energy.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Finding a way to connect with each and every student in my class.

What is the most important lesson you've learned? I've learned that pacing guides can be a teacher's worst nightmare. Teachers can get much more out of covering a few units in depth as opposed to racing through material for the sake of staying on the pacing guide.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? Having an Elmo document camera hooked up to my computer enables me to make learning fun and interactive for students through the use of PowerPoint presentations and videos. It also allows me to cut back on the number of copies I have to make. And transparencies are a thing of the past.

What's next in your classroom? After spring break, we will be starting our unit on Greece.

What advice do you have for students? Believe in yourself and dream big. People who tell you 'you can't do this' and 'you can't do that' don't know how smart and creative you are. And if the thought of dropping out of school should ever cross your mind, consider this: If you drop out of school, your parents will still love you, your siblings will continue to live their lives, and your friends will go on to college, so the only life you will have drastically affected for the worse will be your own.

What advice do you have for parents? Love your children, but be firm with them. Parents who lie or make excuses for their children aren't doing anyone any favors. Hold your children accountable for their education at an early age. Don't wait until they're in high school to enforce that.

What will it take to improve academic success in the valley? We need to extend the school day and academic school year. A longer school day will allow us to incorporate the arts into the curriculum and the proper intervention for struggling students, and an extended school year will decrease the learning losses students experience during the summer months.

How do you to reach students not interested in school? I find out what their interests are and design instructional activities that incorporate those interests. I've also found that a few positive words can go a long way with students who lack motivation.

What one area should schools put more emphasis on? Schools should put more emphasis on bilingual education. With the high number of English language learners we have in the valley, this would greatly benefit our schools. In dual-immersion programs, limited-English-proficient students and native English-speaking students are placed in an environment where language acquisition occurs naturally. The goal for both groups is to meet high academic standards while developing biliteracy and bilingualism.

If you could change one thing about the current educational system, what would it be and why? I would stop purchasing expensive curriculum and spend more money on teacher training in GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design), CREDE (Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence) and other professional development. Better teaching strategies will increase student achievement faster than an expensive, one-size-fits-all curriculum.

What would surprise people about your job? That teachers actually dread writing lesson plans for the substitute!

What are your plans? After completing my master's in multilingual education, I will pursue National Board certification. Later in life, I plan to write children's books.