Teaching at-risk students brings balance, fulfillment to R-5 luminary Al Kreinberg
For a couple hours on a recent afternoon, Al Kreinberg’s classroom had all the pent-up tensions of a courtroom drama.
Students unaccustomed to dressing up often stood more erect and sat a little taller in their chairs in dress shirts and ties, with one student playing the part of a defense attorney wearing a suit coat over a T-shirt and yoga pants.
Off to one side, Kreinberg acted like the maestro, queuing up students for their roles in an upcoming mock trial competition. This year, District 51’s R-5 High School, an alternative school for students who don’t fit cookie cutter-like into the district’s other four high schools, is the only school to send student representatives to the yearly competition. That’s because Kreinberg is willing to facilitate it, as he has for R-5 students virtually every year since 1998.
“For a lot of them, they’ve been in the courtroom before,” Kreinberg said, a teacher at the school for the past 17 years. “This makes them proud of themselves not to be victims of the system. It’s not easy for them to do this. It’s easy for them to feel powerless.”
Kreinberg, who teaches English and careers, always seems to be pressing students to embrace their power. His mannerisms tell the story of how he helps get them there. With smiling blue eyes and elfish looks, the 57-year-old somehow keeps tabs on the whole room. One second he’s cajoling a student through a speech. In the next moment Kreinberg looks across the room, offering a student a double thumbs-up, reward for a good rebuttal. When a student acting like a prosecutor stumbles on her lines, Kreinberg softly touches her arm, offering, “It’s cool.”
By the end of the session, the air is charged with excitement. Students who had been working on the case since Halloween appear to feel armed to battle it out with strangers, students from far-flung schools. High-schoolers who aren’t normally fond of showing emotions crack a few smiles and share some jokes, some lingering in the classroom after class was over.
“This gives them confidence,” Kreinberg said, smiling, taking in the straggling students. “This particular experience shows them how to extract facts and think on their feet.”
Kreinberg believes he is one of the lucky ones to have found his life’s calling: teaching at-risk kids.
As a high-schooler on the Front Range, he was certain he would become a doctor. By college, he set his sights on being an attorney. Then he considered the amount of legal writing it would entail. A stint working with inner-city children in Manchester, N.H., and a gig coaching a Little League team settled it.
“I like working with kids,” he said.
Kreinberg takes his role seriously, studying up on good teaching practices. He employs a term called “withitness” a term he takes to mean “interacting at the right time.”
Butting in early can derail a chain of thought and not getting involved makes it appear that a teacher isn’t aware of his or her surroundings.
“Practicing that technique is as much an art as a science,” he said.
For all his efforts, Kreinberg is one of those teachers students recall as their favorite. He’s not above rousing a student out of bed with a wake-up phone call to ensure they make it to class. He was often dubbed the unofficial principal of R-5 when the school was in transition. Former students still reconnect, some admitting they haven’t made the best life choices.
While buying a home, he noted a few former students sitting around the table during closing.
“The students are good people. They’re practical,” he said. “They’re people I want to know.”
A Colorado native, Kreinberg spent summers as a raft guide around the northwest part of Colorado working for Adventure Bound. He also is a certified yoga teacher and instructs classes around town, with a specialty in Yin Iyengar yoga.
It’s the precision of the practice that he enjoys, and it helps to balance work life.
“I haven’t seen a teacher bring the wellness of mind and spirit to the classroom like he does,” fellow R-5 teacher Kathleen Buckley said. “He gets mad about twice a year and I tell the students if he yells, they better sit down because they deserve it.”