Science teacher Dereka Duncan uses every opportunity to expose students to new ideas. The fifth grade science teacher at Cohn Elementary School in Louisiana’s West Baton Rouge Parish, Duncan leads hands-on investigations of coastal erosion, where students research invasive plant species, explore local ecosystems and experiment with variables that affect plant growth. Students wear white lab coats and safety goggles as they record their scientific data on clipboards or digital notebooks and use content-specific vocabulary to explain their thinking, debate which method will yield the best results and predict outcomes. Duncan has taught many subjects and weaves math and ELA into her science curriculum with ease. Cohn serves a high-need community, in which a quarter of students have identified disabilities. To address their needs, Duncan sets the bar high and delivers high-quality curriculum, supporting all students in reaching and rising above her expectations. Students who enter her class lacking confidence leave wanting to be engineers, researchers and scientists – STEM careers they had not believed to be within reach. Due in part to Duncan’s work revamping the fifth grade reading curriculum to align with Louisiana ELA standards, Cohn has reached an all-time high progress index of 90%, resulting in an A on the growth index score for the first time.
Duncan mentors new Cohn teachers, as well as pre-service and student teachers from Louisiana State University. She was selected to participate in West Baton Rouge Parish’s LEAD West, a district “grow your own” program to help educators develop leadership and administrative skills. Duncan chairs Cohn’s Parental Involvement Committee, serves on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, and created the PAWS (Positive, Affirming, Well-Balanced and Successful) Club to help parents become active partners in their children’s education. At the Math and Science Night she coordinates, students lead parents from station to station as they explain the concepts underlying each activity, while Glow Day features lessons delivered in dark classrooms as students work to the light of glow sticks. Duncan has helped organize Cohn’s “Grits and Grandparents” breakfast and served on the Black History Month committee.
Duncan creates a family atmosphere in her classroom and the community. She serves as a positive role model and can often be found deep in conversation or recording a TikTok dance with groups of students during lunch. Duncan sponsored Cohn’s first Junior Beta Club, singing holiday songs with students at a local nursing home and introducing them to other community service opportunities. A former Cohn student herself, Duncan teaches in the same classroom where she was once a fourth grader.
Duncan earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2012 and a master’s in educational leadership in 2015 from Southern University and A&M College.
Press release: Port Allen's Dereka Duncan Receives a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Empowering Students in STEM
"I teach because I want to make a difference in my community. The best is yet to come for Port Allen. If education makes a difference..." (read more)
2015 M.A., Educational Leadership and Administration, Southern University and A&M College
2012 B.A., Elementary Education and Teaching K-5 Education, Southern University and A&M College