Robert Stagg is a teacher at Aquarian Charter School. His workplace may look like a typical fourth-grade classroom, but his students say he's able to reach them in unique ways.

"I like that he's creative," said Tatum, one of Stagg's students. "We do a lot of fun things and (work on) a lot of cool projects."

Stagg has been at Aquarian in some capacity for all of the school’s 21-year existence. He enjoys the academic freedom that teaching at a charter school provides.

“We have the ability to, for the most part, choose what we teach,” Stagg said.

Charter schools are a part of the public school district, but they’re accountable for their own academic results. The wait list for families to enroll their children at Aquarian is more than 600 names deep.

Stagg believes that academic freedom and the ability to connect with students through project-based learning are key reasons for the charter school’s success.

“(Project-based learning) allows you to combine curriculum,” Stagg said. “There’s definitely more work behind it. Nowadays (teachers) can buy thematic units based on project based learning and cobble together a lesson, but teachers (at Aquarian are) putting together (lessons) from scratch.”

A prime example of project-based learning was a recent study Stagg’s class did on issues that may arise from running a zoo.

“There’s (a lot of) research involved. There’s a lot of feedback from both (the student’s) peers and their teacher on how they’re doing in the project,” Stagg said. “That’s the important part. We always want feedback, we grow from feedback.”

The project culminated with Stagg’s students making a presentation to a local businessman. His class touches on many subjects through the process of creating and presenting projects, but Stagg also believes the educational process extends beyond numbers and letters.

“(He’s my) favorite teacher I’ve ever had,” exclaimed Stagg’s student Annie. “He helped me during the earthquake and after.”

Students looked to Stagg for support following the 7.0 earthquake that occurred on Nov. 30. While most elementary schools in the Anchorage School District start at 9 a.m., Aquarian opens its doors at 8:15 a.m., meaning classrooms were full at 8:29 a.m. when the earthquake struck.

“One thing I told the students was, when (the earthquake) kind of slowed down, was that (students) prepared for this,” said Stagg. “(Students) knew what to do, we got under the tables, nobody was hurt.”

Whether offering lessons in the classroom or lessons in life, Stagg knows what he wants to get out of his fourth graders before their year with him comes to a close.

“I hope they get a sense of wonder… If they leave here thinking there’s a lot to learn in life, that there’s a lot to do.”

It’s a love of teaching and dedication to his students that makes Robert Stagg KTVA 11’s Head of the Class.

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