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Recently, I met with Laura Weigandt, a teacher at Discovery Middle School who works in the Structured Communication Classroom. Here’s what she said: “I feel blessed to be working for Vancouver Public Schools. As a first year teacher, I’ve heard so many stories from my former PSU classmates about the lack of support, resources, and work conditions that they face in other places. I also feel incredibly blessed to have discovered my passion for working with students on the autism spectrum. My students all have the most beautiful minds and spirits. It is my job to help the rest of the world see that in them.”
I was on a routine site visitation when I met Laura. Although our contexts are different in terms of roles and responsibilities, I found we have a lot in common. We are optimists—we see challenges as opportunities. On the worst days, we’re both just “firefighters” trying to manage the latest crisis. But on our best days, we’re helping others see possibilities—for our community, Vancouver Schools, our employees, and the students we serve. I’m not sure which of our jobs is the most difficult—I suspect it really depends upon the crisis! But I do know this, I have a deep respect and professional regard for those who choose to work with our special needs students. Most describe it as a “calling.”
Not surprisingly, that is Laura’s story. She has worked for VPS since 2005 and began as a staff assistant in the Structured Communication Classroom (SCC) at Lakeshore Elementary School. She’s in her first year teaching the SCC program at Discovery Middle School since completing her graduate degree at Portland State. But her pursuit of what she describes as “the best job in the world” began in her youth. Laura has a close family member with autism. When this person was young, he was inaccurately labeled as mentally retarded, and was not given the attention and support that he needed to flourish. Later in life, other people recognized his unique needs, and refused to give up on him by providing support and holding him to high standards. Today, this relative is primarily independent, has been named Employee of the Month three times, and even holds season tickets for the University of Oregon football games! I’m sure he was celebrating the outcome of the “Civil War” with thousands of others at Autzen Stadium!
This personal experience has shaped Laura’s core. She sees her students as children first, and as children with disabilities second. Laura shared that working with children on the autism spectrum can be incredibly difficult because no one child is like the next. But the rewards and benefits of helping each child blossom into an independently functioning adult far outweigh any of the challenges she may experience.
I thank you, Laura, and all of you who see challenges as opportunities. I, too, feel blessed to be working for Vancouver Public Schools.
Have a wonderful holiday season!
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