In A Struggling School District, One Teacher Offers A Bright Spot

Dec 1, 2016

Duquesne Elementary School kindergarten teacher Breanne Dolby thought she was bringing her students to the library for a “surprise guest reader” last Tuesday. Instead, she was awarded $1,500, a customized Steelers jersey and tickets to the New Year’s Day game.

Dolby was one of 16 area educators designated as “Leaders in the Classroom” by Chevron and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Through the new program, the partners offer grants and prizes to teachers they find “are making a significant difference in the lives of students.”

Dolby said she had no idea she’d been nominated and felt “surprised and excited” at the news.

Duquesne Elementary, which is now the only school in the district, has struggled academically and financially over the past few years. The district has been under state oversight since 2012 and was forced to close its high school in 2007. The annual family income for most of its students is less than half of the state average at around $25,898. More than 80 percent of students are considered by the state to be economically disadvantaged.

Dolby, who has been with the district for about a year, was nominated by her husband, Chad. He said his wife has always been passionate about teaching, so sending in the application was an easy decision.

“From the late night hours of working on lesson plans to working on everything she needs to do to make her kids feel like she really cares about what she’s doing,” he said.

Duquesne Elementary School is the only facility operated by the district. The school enrolls a little over 300 students in Pre-K through 6th grade.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

According to the Principal Jennifer Jennings, Dolby was chosen because she exemplified creative teaching practices in her classroom during the students’ early, formative childhood years.

“Really developing students to be active thinkers and active learners in their own education is something that we’re really trying to push in our younger grades,” Jennings said. “She embraced that within her own classroom.”

In the nomination form, Dolby’s husband mentioned her daily “morning meetings,” which include science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, learning opportunities. Dolby said at the beginning of each day, the children shake each other’s hands, share a positive story and sing together.

“I really like to try to incorporate social and emotional skills during our morning meeting so our students learn to treat each other fairly, not to bully,” Dolby said. “That’s just not only an important skill for Kindergarten, but for their whole time in school.”

At the end of the daily meeting, Dolby said she’ll leave the students with an inspirational quote. She asks them to circle which words they know and together, they figure out the message.

Fifteen other teachers from southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia received the 2016 Leaders in the Classroom award.