Middle school students at IDEA Innovation are learning how to solve any problem head-on thanks to one inspiring teacher named Gabbria Parker.
Parker, a native of Baton Rouge, is a Mathematics Pre-AP teacher at IDEA Innovation College Preparatory, one of IDEA’s schools in Baton Rouge. Though she was not a first-generation college student herself, Parker’s love of teaching and education has allowed her to foster a track record of success for students who never dreamed they would be on track to attend college.
While she always wanted to become a teacher growing up, her career took a very different path after hearing some discouraging words.
“I was always told that there is not much money in education and that it would be best not to become a teacher,” she says with a laugh. “So, I started college and decided to study business instead.”
Parker assumed she’d found her career path until she began to realize that work left her unfulfilled. In addition, she recalls working with many people who were unable to perform simple math or even handle basic monetary transactions. It was then that Parker began to seriously reconsider her desire to teach and help others become successful.
“I can remember hating math at one point; however, it took one teacher in middle school to take the time to help me understand the concept of math and I have been in love with it ever since,” she says. “With the patience of a caring teacher, it helped build my confidence and provided me the tools to pursue a career with a math focus.”
Realizing business was not the place for her, Gabbria resolved to dedicate the next chapter of her career to teaching children to understand and like math. She then quit her job and got her teacher certification over the summer.
Parker began teaching at a behavioral school in Baton Rouge with youth who had been found guilty of committing delinquent acts. Many of the students were behind academically and lacked content knowledge. In fact, Parker says the school was part of a federal program and was in danger of losing funding due to student performance.
“They were going to shut down the program until our scores came back from the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP),” she says. “The students did so well they actually decided to continue funding. Most of these kids were sent out of class or school for their delinquency and to see them perform well was wonderful.”
Parker says her co-worker at the school began talking about a Texas public charter network coming to Louisiana called IDEA Public Schools. She said the name stuck with her as he kept mentioning the district and how he had applied.
Deciding to do some research of her own, Parker was impressed with IDEA’s track record and its emphasis on Team & Family and applied for a teaching position. Parker was hired as part of IDEA Innovation’s founding staff in 2018 and says that IDEA is exactly what a community like Baton Rouge needs. Parker’s son is a 1st grade student at IDEA Innovation and she says even he comes home and tells her how he cannot wait to go to college.
“I’ve worked at traditional public schools and I see the difference,” she says. “IDEA truly cares about the whole child. We are in our first year here in Southern Louisiana and we don’t have high school students yet, but long before these students are in high school, they are being trained with a mindset to sustain them to and through college.”
In her Pre-AP math class, Parker says she is delighted each time a student tells her that their math assignment wasn’t as confusing as they expected.
“I always try and relate any math problem to the real world with a story,” she says. “And they tell me, ‘that makes sense’ and I laugh and tell them that math always makes sense. My proudest moments as a teacher is when I see that look of surprise on a student’s faces after he/she has completed a problem correctly or understood the concept. That look of satisfaction and understanding and for them to say they now like math gives me pure joy.”
With a college graduation rate at just 32% in Baton Rouge, Parker has many students who are on track to become the first in their families to graduate from college if they continue to be challenged academically. In fact, she says she has some future educators in some of her classes.
“I talk to my students about how to solve any problem—in math and in life and when I see that spark of interest and understanding, it’s the best feeling,” says Parker. “Some of my students want to teach the class. Sometimes they show others how to solve problems and do their work and it reminds me of my own math teacher who inspired me to help others learn.”
Now in her 8th year in education, Parker says she is blessed to have the opportunity to provide a transformational change to all students—especially those whose dream of college is now only a few years away.
“At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel grateful to get to live my life’s passion while changing the lives of students who never thought college was a possibility,” she says.
Long after they leave her classroom, Parker wants each of her students to remember one thing:
“Life is just like math. You may not get it the first time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t succeed,” she says. “The trick is to work hard, not be afraid to ask for help, and always do your best.”