Teacher of the Year finalist Parra: 'Every kid can perform'

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

HOSCHTON — Sergio Parra doesn’t just use Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Quality-Plus Teaching Strategies to inform his instruction. He keeps a laser focus on the research-based practices.

All 13 strategies are prominently displayed on the back wall of his classroom at Osborne Middle School. Above a description of each one — assessment, non-verbal representation, modeling and practice, vocabulary, summarizing, collaboration, student goal setting, literacy, problem solving, questioning, background knowledge, comparison and contrast, and technology — is a picture of how Parra has used the strategies.

“These are the strategies I follow for every unit,” said Parra, one of the six finalists for the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year honor. “I keep changing the pictures because that illustrates how we accomplish every strategy in the classroom.”

There’s a reason Parra keeps so focused on the strategies.

“I try to avoid to keep in mind that somebody struggles this way or that way. I think and I believe that following the strategies, every kid can perform in my class,” he said. “This has been my experience in the past. I’ve been successful in this.”

This is Parra’s sixth year as a Gwinnett County teacher. He taught Spanish at Central Gwinnett High School before switching to Osborne in 2008.

Parra’s career as an educator, however, began nearly two decades ago in his native Colombia, where he taught computer applications. When he moved to the United States, he taught social studies.

At Osborne, Parra teaches students in all grade levels. Sixth-graders take Spanish as a connections class. It’s nine weeks long, and the students rotate through different elective courses during the year. For the seventh- and eighth-graders, Parra said, Spanish is more of an academic class.

“We go with the same content that students are taking in high school,” Parra said. “From here, they can go straight into Level 2 in high school.”

When Parra was learning English, he said he used flash cards to practice the language. He uses a similar technique — with a fun twist — to help his students learn Spanish vocabulary.

Parra said he uses a website to create games designed to help students master the vocabulary. He asks them to spend at least 30 minutes a week playing the game, which leaves him time in class to focus on grammar and writing and concepts.

While teaching, Parra said he keeps in mind that every child learns differently.

“I believe it’s extremely important to learn a child’s dominant learning style,” he said. “I can’t expect that every kid will learn in the same way. That’s why I use the strategies. It allows me to use different methodologies with all my students.”

Parra’s No. 1 belief, though, is what leads his children to be so successful.

“I firmly believe that every kid is gifted,” he said. “The kids know I treat everybody equally, that they can do the work.”