Jennifer Pellegrine's turning point came when she discovered the importance of giving students multiple chances to master skills, rather than simply letting them slide by with barely passing grades.
Call it a lesson in perseverance – on her part and theirs.
"Instead of saying, 'OK, you got a 60 on that test so I'm going to put a 60 in my gradebook ... you teach that child what they didn't learn and have them redo the work until they get it," says Ms. Pellegrine, a math teacher.
Now she's helping other teachers catch that same inspiration by dedicating herself to boosting struggling students' achievement. The 29-year-old's title is director of data and assessment at Lady Liberty Academy Charter School in Harrison, N.J., which primarily serves low-income African-American and Hispanic students from Newark.
Pellegrine's main work is coaching teachers to assess students throughout the school year and address whatever gaps arise – before it's too late. She's also been identified as an "emerging leader" by ASCD, a nonprofit membership association of educators, based in Alexandria, Va.
"It forces a teacher to have to change their instruction to meet that student's need," Pellegrine says. They form small groups for targeted instruction; they reteach material in new ways.
"Kids are getting ... [that] they're not good or bad at something," she says. "They just need to learn and they need to work hard to get there."
Ultimately, she adds, "If we're not explicitly teaching students ... how to use their thinking skills to overcome obstacles and have a positive attitude, nothing else is really going to take effect."
– Stacy Teicher Khadaroo
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