A project-based approach 

No two days are ever alike for Hopi fourth-fifth-grade gifted teacher, Debbie Voris. With her Integrated Project Approach (also known as project-based learning), this 30-year teaching veteran explained that one day her students might be working on blueprints to build a desk, and the next day they might be problem solving why their design didn’t quite work.

“With this style of teaching, the teacher gives the student basic skills and then the teacher gives a rich and elaborate project in which those skills can be used,” said Voris. “One such project was building their own desks. The students had to use perimeter, area, percentage, writing skills and meet with engineers.”

Voris, who grew up in Arcadia, had five children attend Hopi, Ingleside and Arcadia High School and now has six grandchildren at Hopi as well as one more starting kindergarten next year. Her commitment to the school and her students is strong. Her passion makes a powerful impression. 

“I’m a constructivist,” said Voris. “That is my philosophy. Teach children to find their own meaning through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. I believe in giving real-life applications to our concepts.”

For Laura Schott, having her son Aidan in Voris’ class has been such a transformative experience that she nominated Mrs. Voris for the Arcadia News Teachers We Love Award.

“Mrs. Voris conveys her passion and expectation of excellence to her students, along with a conviction that these students can and will make a difference as current and future leaders in their school and community – and in fact have a duty to do so,” said Schott. “Grit is a word you hear often in her classroom, as students become increasingly independent in their learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

Voris demands meaningful, purposeful work from her students. High expectations keep the students on their toes and force them to always do their best.

“I tell them they either get 100 percent on a math test or they fail,” said Voris. “If an engineer on a roller coaster doesn’t do their work 100 percent correct, people will get hurt. They need to know their work has consequences when applied to real life.”

Schott believes Voris’ approach has developed a terrific learning environment for her child.

“Her no-nonsense, can-do attitude permeates the classroom culture, and students leave well prepared for the challenges of middle school and beyond,” said Schott. “She is ‘that teacher’ that students will remember as making an impact in their lives. She is truly a Teacher We Love!”