Student, Teaching

Like any good teacher, David Wadding wrote lesson plans, made up tests and offered seventh, eighth and ninth grade students one-on-one instruction in math and science at Dragonfleye Charter School in northwest Phoenix.

Only problem, David Wadding was an eighth-grader at the school himself.

Wadding says his incredible stint as a teenage teacher began last April, after Dragonfleye's middle school math and science instructor left unexpectedly, with a month to go in the school year. The classes were officially turned over to the school's principal, Joseph Delgardo, who made Wadding his assistant. More often than not, however, Wadding found himself alone with a classroom of students.

Fellow classmates Randall and Matthew Hall and Saudi Ellison back up Wadding's tale that they were frequently without adult supervision, and that Wadding was in essence running the class.

Wadding says his teaching role was created under the auspices of Dragonfleye's work study program -- a much-touted component of the school's curriculum. Normally, Wadding and his classmates say, work study at Dragonfleye means watching the younger kids on the playground or cleaning cages in the science lab. Before the math teacher left, Wadding ran errands and performed other small tasks for Delgardo.

Then, as Wadding explains: "Mr. Delgardo came in to take over and I was his work study [student], so . . . I did the lesson plans, I made up a couple of tests, made up assignments and stuff."

Wadding, who is very large for his age -- 5'9" and more than 200 pounds -- and suffers from a mild case of cerebral palsy, didn't mind teaching. He is, after all, a star student when it comes to math. To him, it was simply no big deal. In fact, Wadding didn't even think to mention it to his mother, Brenda LaCroix.

An incredulous LaCroix says she learned about her son's responsibilities at an end-of-school party last week from Dragonfleye's middle school social studies and English teacher, a woman who goes by the name Miss Jaga.

Wadding's mom did think it was a big deal. "I thought I was sending him there to learn," LaCroix says. "When I was in high school, I worked as a teacher's aide. . . . [But] I never, ever had access to a lesson plan or a grade book. I never saw another student's grade."

And, she adds, "I personally believe that this happened at the expense of David's education."

Delgardo did not return New Times' calls. But LaCroix says she received a call from Delgardo last week, who acknowledged that he'd heard from New Times.

"He said, "Well, you know, I could get in a lot of trouble for this,'" LaCroix says. "I said, "Yeah, well, you shouldn't have been doing it.' He said, "I thought I was helping David.' I said, "Excuse me, but he's 13 years old and he has no business performing the duties of a professional educator.'"

Miss Jaga says she learned of Wadding's role shortly after the math/science teacher left. Delgardo "told me that David was his assistant, that's the way he put it, his assistant, and that he would be doing, quote, peer tutoring," she recalls. "Also, David was checking papers and what have you. Now, as far as standing in front of the class . . . no, but he would answer questions for the students and help them and assist them with their math work."

Miss Jaga says that on about half a dozen occasions, Delgardo asked her to excuse Wadding from her social studies class so he could assist seventh graders with math. She says Delgardo asked her permission a couple of times, but that most times he simply informed her Wadding would have to leave class.

She says she was not aware that Wadding wrote lesson plans and created tests. Her understanding, Miss Jaga says, is that the students worked independently on pre-prepared packets, and that Wadding had finished his and that's why he was asked to teach. She says that on at least two occasions she walked into the math classroom to ask the students to be quiet and saw that no adult was present in the classroom.

LaCroix says she intends to file a complaint with the state board of education.

"What are the standards for teaching school in the state of Arizona? As wonderful as my son is, I know that at 13 years old, he doesn't meet even the minimum," she says.

Actually, he might. While Arizona public schools require certification, charter schools don't. Bonnie Barclay, who oversees charter schools for the Arizona Board of Education, says, "For a 13-year-old boy to be a teacher in the class, taking on that kind of responsibility, even under the supervision of another instructor, I don't feel that's appropriate, but that's my personal feeling."

But the only legal question, Barclay believes, is whether Wadding's teaching duties violated child labor laws.

His mother's response: "Maybe we oughta get him a paycheck!"

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