Albemarle Schools Work to Accommodate ‘At-Risk’ Students - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Albemarle Schools Work to Accommodate ‘At-Risk’ Students

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Albemarle County schools are preparing teachers to deal with a dramatic increase in the number of students who struggle at home or hitting the books. Albemarle classrooms are packed with more students at-risk of not succeeding in school than the entire enrollment for Greene County or Madison County schools. The school division added 1,000 at-risk students over the past five years.

Four-thousand students across Albemarle County come to school with the label. Tonya Mills, a teacher at Greer Elementary School, knows it well. “I came from a family where my parents didn't have a high school education, and they don't have a college degree,” Mills said.

Mills credits another teacher with inspiring a love of learning in a little girl labeled “at risk.”

“That's what I got from my first grade teacher is this passion, this drive to succeed. I want to instill that in my students as well,” she said.

Mills went on to attend the University of Virginia and earn a master's in teaching from James Madison University. Now she says she can tap into the potential of her at-risk students because she's been in their shoes.

Mills is starting her first year at Greer, where 70 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch and considered to be "at risk.” The school is reorganizing staff to focus on early education. One-on-one assessments develop a strategy for each student to learn and grow.

“We have a mindset that every single child's needs will be met, and we put it upon ourselves to figure out how to do that,” said Robyn Bolling, principal of Greer Elementary School.

Greer's approach goes beyond the school doors to involve families.

“They are their child's first teacher. We are the second. We really respect that, and I think what we try to do and can continue to get stronger at is building that parent-teacher, parent-school connection,” Bolling said.

Before the school year even starts, Mills is ready to send her kindergartners off with a life lesson: “Don't take the label to define who you are as a person.”

Greer teachers will begin that outreach Friday for "stepping out" day, when they'll go door to door to meet parents and invite them to come to the school.

Classes start in Albemarle County next Tuesday.

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