Darby LaRocca: Ensuring every student receives the education they deserve

Published 5:00 am Friday, February 2, 2024

St. Louis Catholic High School teacher Darby LaRocca, 51, knows school can sometimes be confusing and uncomfortable for students and teachers alike. But in her classroom, she approaches each situation with patience and compassion.

She was raised in Beaumont, Texas, and graduated from West Orange-Stark High School in 1991. Four years later, she earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in special education. She is certified to teach special education in both Louisiana and Texas.

She was drawn to special education because of her family experiences. Her older brother was in special education self-contained classes throughout his school years, struggling both academically and behaviorally. As she witnessed her parents navigate this, LaRocca decided she could learn and help others.

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“I watched my parents deal with the ups and downs of raising a child with disabilities.  Somewhere deep down I felt that living in a home environment with a person with disabilities might make me able to sympathize with others in the same situation.”

Her 26-year teaching career started in Louisiana teaching at Johnson Bayou and LaGrange high schools. After her husband’s job transferred them to Texas, she taught at two schools there — Groves Elementary and West Orange-Stark Elementary.

For most of her career she taught resource, where students with various disabilities go to her class to learn math, grammar, writing, science and social studies.

She has also done inclusion and content mastery work. When she was an inclusion teacher, she would go into classrooms and assist students with Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) with classwork and tasks.

As a content mastery teacher, students would come to her classroom to work on assignments.

They eventually moved back to Lake Charles, and she began teaching at St. Louis.

LaRocca said she began teaching at St. Louis after the principal asked her to join in on an “exciting adventure.”

“I was a bit scared because I hadn’t taught high school students in a while and study skills was a new take on the special education I was used to teaching.”

It was a chance worth taking. She said that this position is her best teaching job yet.

She has been at the school for seven years teaching 9th to 12th grade study skills. In study skills, she helps students earn a TOPS diploma via service plans and practicing “executive functioning skills while getting more familiar with the content necessary to graduate.”

The learning environment in her classroom is more independent. At the start of the week, she writes out the assignment for the week and their due dates, and carves out times for her students to study.

“Some students need a place to lay low and collect themselves. There are a lot of moving parts to this classroom setting.”

The learning space is also comfortable, inviting and “home-like” to facilitate both academic and social growth.

At St. Louis, she is also the prom sponsor and a mentor in the House of Saint Elmo.

LaRocca is proud to be a teacher and to work alongside others with the same passion. She and her peers have a “kinship like no other,” she said.

“We feel each other’s pain and frustration whether you are in Louisiana or Alaska. … Who else will give up eating out in order to buy extra poster board and markers for students that can’t afford it? I can ask any of my co-workers on any given day for assistance and all will respond. What other profession will do this consistently?”

Together teachers work towards the common goal of ensuring every student receives the education they deserve, and securing the future.

“A student that is taught to think and reason in the classroom will ultimately transfer those skills outside of the classroom. Fostering a fondness for learning new information and stretching their minds to realize the worth of other people’s ideas will ensure the prosperity of all humans.  A good education will make these kids better at making sound decisions in their own lives and possibly others.  They can take the skills learned and make this community even better.”