By Blake Schnitker
Walking through the halls of Eisenhower Elementary school brings back a lot of memories for me. As a former Eagle, I can remember all of the classrooms, the water fountains and restrooms, even some of the teachers. Though there are a number of fresh faces working there now, some faces are still very familiar. Among the familiar faces – one that invariably bares a smile – is Carol Hedrick, who for the past decade or so has worked with a number of children with special learning or behavioral needs.
I mostly remember Ms. Hedrick from our “buddy-reading” sessions each week, when students from my class, including myself, would meet with students from Ms. Hedrick’s class in Eisenhower’s main lobby and read our favorite books. But buddy-reading was much more than that. It wasn’t just about the reading or the books, it was about getting to know Ms. Hedrick’s students. I always left our buddy-reading sessions in a better mood than when I arrived, and it was the same reason that smile rarely left Ms. Hedrick: these students truly were and are special, and they are with whom she spends most of her days.
Still today, Ms. Hedrick has a classroom at Eisenhower. Altogether, the school has 11 children with autism, each with varying degrees of functionality and 7 of whom stay in Ms. Hedrick’s classroom throughout the day. And while every day or week or month is special, this month is perhaps the most important, because April represents Autism Awareness month, when all of Eisenhower Elementary – led by Ms. Hedrick’s class – will be celebrating and spreading awareness about autism.
Eisenhower’s students will be wearing Autism Awareness shirts or blue – the official color of the Autism Awareness movement – on Fridays. For all of the students diagnosed with Autism, the school has purchased special shirts – characterized by colorful puzzle pieces – for them to wear on Fridays. Other activities include a school-wide Autism Awareness Bingo game, with prizes being awarded to students who correctly answers questions regarding Autism. Posted in various locations throughout the school are facts about Autism Awareness. In front of the school’s main office, one will find “All about me” books which highlight each of Eisenhower’s students with Autism.
“We’ve been celebrating Autism Awareness for several years now.” Said Hedrick, the school’s primary autism teacher, “it’s been really nice to see all of the students getting involved, wearing their t-shirts on Fridays, and just learning more about the students here that do have autism.”
While all of Ms. Hedrick’s students – who range from ages 5 to 9 – share the singular trait of autism, each student is entirely unique from the next, with needs that are specific to themselves. Recognizing this fact is an integral part of being a special needs educator, and providing the proper attention to each student requires more than a just few hands.
Factoring in each student’s individual capabilities, Ms. Hedrick develops learning programs designed to help each student advance at their own pace, and in their own way. From there, each student spends the day with their 1:1 paraprofessional, learning through the activities designed by Ms. Hedrick. This collaborative system – between Ms. Hedrick and the staff– works to ensure that their students’ receive the best educational experience possible.
“We’re very fortunate here at Eisenhower,” Hedrick said, “each of our students has an intensive individualized program that meets the individual needs of each of the students. That type of individual attention is what really sets Eisenhower and District 117 apart.”