Henrico’s Top Teachers – Rita Roberson

Ratcliffe E.S., fifth grade
Students at Ratcliffe Elementary School in Eastern Henrico – and even those who have moved on to middle school and beyond – know that they'll always have a friend and mentor in Rita Roberson.

Roberson, a fifth-grade teacher who has spent her entire 20-year teaching career at Ratcliffe, takes pride in both roles.

"I may be their teacher for just a short time, but I'm always going to be there for them," Roberson said.

Though Ratcliffe sits squarely in the middle of one of Henrico's most at-risk regions (near Laburnum Avenue and Mechanicsville Turnpike) and some of its students live in poverty or single-parent households, Roberson is not fazed.

"Every student is a challenge, whether they are from single-family household or not," she said. "But every one can and will learn."

Students know Roberson as an active teacher who incorporates a variety of hands-on materials, movements and even songs and dances to connect with students. She believes that empowering students to teach various lessons to each other helps them learn more than they might otherwise, and she utilizes a number of progressive ideas championed by nationally known educator Ron Clark. Roberson was among a handful of Henrico teachers who attended Clark's academy in her hometown of Atlanta last year to learn more about his innovative style of educating students.

Some parents tell Roberson that because they struggled with math in school themselves, they don't feel qualified to help their students with it. But there are no excuses for Roberson, who is weeks away from completing a master's degree as a math specialist at VCU and who believes math skills are just as important to a student's growth as reading skills.

"You would never come back [as a parent] and say, 'I just never got reading,'" she said. So she makes it her mission to provide students – and parents – the support they need to master the math skills that will serve them later in life. It works.

"Many of Mrs. Roberson's students come back to visit and discuss how they learned so much in her math class," a nominator wrote. "You often hear, "I wish you could always teach me math."

Roberson was among the first group of teachers in Henrico to work with interactive Promethean boards when the school system began a pilot program years ago. Now she uses hers every day.

"I can't see myself teaching without my board," she said. In addition to making lessons more interactive, the board can help her identify which individual students need extra help by providing real-time quiz results by student.

Technology also has provided her students – many of whom haven't traveled outside this region – with a window to the world. Her class Skypes with students in Colorado and Minnesota, watches and discusses world news on cable television and researches national and international news and events.

Of Roberson, a nominator wrote that "she manages to maintain the interest of majority of her students and inspires them to set higher goals and reach them."

Roberson has taught first, second and fifth grades at Ratcliffe, which she describes as a place "like no other" because of its family environment and supportive faculty, staff and parents.

She particularly enjoys fifth-grade students because they are just coming into their own as individuals.

"They have a sense of purpose," she said. "They're trying to understand who they are and their place in the world. You actually see them changing from that little person who needed your help."

Particularly gratifying for Roberson are the success stories shared by former students who return to visit her classroom. One graduated from William & Mary. Another earned a full scholarship to the University of Richmond and took a job with Teach for America, which has sent her to far-flung corners of the world.

"It's like, alright, I did make a difference," Roberson said.
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