Mount Gilead High School Intervention Specialist, Sondra Carey, also known as special needs teacher, begins the story of her journey in teaching with her own brother. Carey tells how her brother who was in special education went through school just playing games. He had learned very little useful information by the time he had finished high school.
Sondra Carey says she vowed that when her students finished school they would be able to take care of themselves. “I wanted my students to learn,” Carey said.
“I want my students to be able to go into a store and read the labels and a read newspaper,” said Carey. “I want them to be good moms and dads, to be able to use a check book and know how credit cards work.”
Carey said she feels the most satisfaction as a teacher when a student “gets it.” That is exciting to see. She has found that a key in teaching special needs students is to work from their strength. She listens and watches to see what interests they have.
“It’s been my goal for all students to have work and to be able to get along in the world independently,” Carey said.
Her language arts students are presently reading a 5th grade level book “Tangerine.” It’s about two brothers who move from Texas to Florida. She said the kids have loved the book and are drawing scenes from the story. Many of her students can draw better than they write.
Carey is proud that many of her special needs students have received honors in high school and have gone on to have good jobs and are involved in the community. This year her student Andrew Carver I receiving the R.H. Horn award in Mansfield for Outstanding Achievement. He achieved a 3.6 grade point average. She also recalls Abby Linnabary who received a national award for her achievement in the arts. Abby has gone on to receive a bachelor’s degree and is presently teaching in New York.
Andrew Carver’s mom, Donna, talks about the care and thoughtfulness Carey shows each student. She said Carey goes out of her way to email photos to parents or sends notes about their accomplishments in the Life Skills class where they make meals.
“I’m so glad she waited to retire until Andrew graduated,” commented Carver with a smile.
“I can’t find words to express how fabulous she is.”
Carver went on to say that Carey looks to challenge students whether in academics or in life skills activities. She finds their strength and special interests and that helps them learn and makes them feel proud of their accomplishments.
“The confidence she helps them feel is amazing,” Carver added.
In thinking about what has changed over her years in teaching since 1980, Carey said that there is more diversity in material and more inclusion in the classroom since the mid-1990’s.
She has taken continuing education courses every summer to get new ideas for her classroom.
Sadly, she said that there are more behavior problems due to alcohol and drug use by parents. This leads to even shorter attention spans. She also sees that lack of food has become a more frequent problem and she sometimes brings breakfast for students.
She has also been unhappy to see that there are no allowances for diversity in the Ohio Graduate Testing. Carey also believes that the requirement by the state for all high school students to complete Algebra II is totally unrealistic as it is for the majority of the population.
Carey’s first teaching position was in Plymouth, Ohio where she taught from 1980- 82. She then took a few years off when her children were little and went back to Plymouth Schools from 1986-1990. She came to Mount Gilead to work as a special education teacher in 1990.
Looking towards the future, Carey said that she plans to renew her teacher’s license and may do some subbing and part-time teaching at the digital academy. She also plans to spend more time with her mother who lives in Lima and her children Matt, Mark, Michael and Mariah. She’s proud that her sons are fire fighters and paramedics and Mariah is in Ag communication.
Melissa Barnhart has taught with Carey since 1991 and sometimes did team teaching.
“She cares about the kids so much and wants them to do their best and try their hardest,” Barnhart said. “She tries to find their strength and build on that. She cares about her students like they were her own kids.”