Byline: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Dayna Yarbrough's classroom is a busy place first thing in the morning. The children filing in and getting caught up on their gossipy updates are energy enough, but it was her fellow teachers coming in and out that added to the positive energy in the room. One teacher came in to touch base and pick up the extra cupcakes they had shared with students the day before. Another stopped by for help with a poem that she was going to teach that day, and the substitute teacher who had come to take over for the day waited patiently to see if Yarbrough would actually go home.
Yarbrough is more than an English teacher - she has become a resource.
Yarbrough is a seventh-grade language arts teacher at James Weldon Johnson Middle School. It is a school that prides itself on being the only college preparatory middle school in Jacksonville, feeding its students into Stanton College Preparatory School and Paxon School for Advanced Studies.
"What we do in middle school defines the direction they will take. There is a misperception that we are a school only serving elite kids, but we start with kids from all levels. We work with them to mold them to handle the expectations," she said.
Middle schoolers, she said, are trying to find who they are.
"You have to let them test their boundaries," she said.
Even as teaching styles change and the curriculum changes, learning the classics are a cornerstone of educational success. Yarbrough has grown in her teaching to become a foundation that both children and other teachers can lean on to gain more knowledge.
There is a mural of classical books on a shelf that reflects this emphasis on classical literature with a modern touch. Yarbrough has used special paint that is used to make wipe/erase boards to create the books on her wall, leaving the titles blank. As students finish the novels and poetry collections that are part of the curriculum, she writes in the title so that students visually see their accomplishments increase.
Yarbrough has developed other tactics such as using audio and video clips of the poems the students must learn, allowing them to use current methods to understand language that can be centuries old. She finds other ways to help students face the difficulties they might have in understanding complicated and new vocabulary.
STUDENTS BUY IN
"I think I did better on FCAT this year because of strategies she taught us, like highlighting context clues and refining our answers," said 12-year-old student Sydney Regard, speaking of the digital highlighting tool on the computers they use. …