Patience and optimism are two qualities special education teachers have in abundance — reserves they’ve had to draw upon this year in meeting challenges posed by the COVID-19 health crisis.
But by the looks of their classrooms, you wouldn’t know the extra work they’ve shouldered to ensure students succeed. To hear the happy sounds of play and learning is to know students are safe and that, no matter how they’re learning — from home or in the classroom — they feel challenged and connected.
Each year, CSD’s Office of Special Education and Related Services recognizes a special group of special education professionals with Exceptional Service Awards. This year’s awardees are exemplary of the caliber of instruction delivered each day with patience and care in schools throughout the District.
East Sandy Elementary
Sophia Kaihatu was months into her first year as a teacher when Utah’s schools were dismissed to slow the spread of COVID-19. But like an acrobat she deftly adapted to ever-changing safety protocols and the disruptions of quarantines, pouring her heart into her students while encouraging them to meet high expectations. She works with her colleagues, both within Sandy Elementary’s ABS unit and general education classrooms, to maintain a culture of inclusion. In Sophia, students have a mentor and ally. They trust her and, through her calm guidance, have acquired the confidence needed in this most challenging of years to try hard things.
Heidi Owen has the ability to bring humor to any situation. Her infectious smile and personality bring light and laughter to the most stressful and challenging situations. The speech language pathologist works in collaboration with Altara Elementary’s preschool teachers and parents to devise just the right supports and tools to help students learn and thrive at school and at home. She is innovative in her use of technology and genuinely enjoys working with students and seeing them make progress.
Like all great special education teachers, Amanda Rasmussen understands the science behind instruction. She also knows it takes heart and an army of caring adults to help students reach their goals. A go-it-alone attitude won’t get you very far in education, which is why Amanda works so hard building relationships with her colleagues and communication tools so that all of Midvalley Elementary’s aides, therapists, and general and special education teachers know the instructional supports students need. Amanda has changed ow special education looks, sounds, and feels at Midvalley, contributing to a learning environment where all students thrive.
Jordan Valley Preschool
Allyson Clark has a level of intuition that can’t always be taught. Becoming part of the special education family can be intimidating for families of preschool-age children. But as Jordan Valley School’s parents are introduced to the Individualized Education Process process for the first time, she brings a sense of calmness and compassion to the meeting, explaining each step concisely and at a level parents can understand. It’s with this same empathy, kindness, and skill that “Ally” approaches teaching, her dedication to students matched only by her capacity for innovation.