There is a lesson Derrik Wiggins learned in college that he carries with him as a third grade teacher at Carver Dual Language Elementary.
“One of my mentors, Dr. Bernard Franklin, told me not to chase money or prestige, but while I am young to make sure I use my passion and talent to focus on giving back to my community. The other stuff will come in time.”
As the 2017 Kansas City Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Wiggins has embraced the calling to community betterment and is using his position of influence to help his students understand their ability to do the same.
“Many of us get so caught up in pursuing our own ends that service to others becomes extra-curricular or not part of our lives at all,” said Wiggins, who has been teaching for four years, all at Carver. “While we have the time, energy and passion, we should focus on how we will make our communities and the world better.”
Through his daily interaction with his third-grade students, Wiggins knows he’s been given a gift to both help shape young lives and ensure a better future for the Kansas City area. While teaching his students the fundamental elements of math, reading and writing, he encourages them with messages of speaking up for what is right and how to resolve conflict without violence.
The lessons of social-emotional health and conflict resolution are put to use in the classroom on a smaller scale—such as in standing up to bullying and solving disagreements with words—but Wiggins knows that these seemingly “smaller” lessons will one day be put to use in the broad sense of the community as a whole.
“If we wish to see changes in our communities, then it is in our schools that we must provide the education that will lead to such change,” said Wiggins, who has lived in the Kansas City metro his entire life other than during his time at K-State and the University of Missouri St. Louis. “If we see that our communities are hurting social-emotionally, mentally or economically, or that there is a lack of social justice, then we should look at our schools and ask, ‘Are we instilling a mindset and culture where these things are valued?’”
For his exceptional work in the classroom, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) recognized Wiggins as the KCPS Teacher of the Year on May 1 at a ceremony at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. He took home a personal trophy and a traveling trophy for his school, plus $5,000 donated by the Catalyst Fund for KCPS Students. His work has drawn praise from those he works with, as well as those who have watched him develop into one of the Metro’s brightest and most influential young educators, including his mentor, Dr. Bernard Franklin.
"[Derrik] is a man who not only teaches in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Kansas City, Mo., but he also lives right in the neighborhood he serves,” said Franklin, assistant vice president for student life at K-State. “As such, he has come to believe that educators can be liberators of little minds or they can continue the work of the oppressor by expecting little from these minds or not learning to be adaptable, flexible and creative to reach the social and emotional needs of each individual child learner."
In addition to his daily classroom work, Wiggins does free home tutoring for students in his community, volunteers with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and serves on Carver’s Parent Teacher Association. He also opted to learn Spanish to better communicate with his student body, 87 percent of which is Hispanic.
For his commitment to instilling positive, community-building character in his students and his contributions to the Kansas City area, Wiggins was recognized as the Blue KC Sporting Samaritan for July 2017.
“I’m very excited about this honor,” said Wiggins. “I have many students and family members who love Sporting KC and will be very excited. I’m also proud to see that Blue KC and my city’s sports teams want to make sure that education is celebrated in our community.”