You are a mentor teacher and an art teacher at Beacon Day School. First, what does a "mentor teacher" mean?
A mentor or master teacher is one who supports and guides the teachers at Beacon who are in the process of finishing up their credential program. I am also playing a role as a resource specialist for all the teachers as well as the behavior interventionist. I provide resources for implementing the student IEPs and give advice on IEP development and academic assessments. More recently, I have also coordinated all school events, building staff and Beacon family morale and enthusiasm.
How did being a mentor teacher gravitate into also being an art teacher?
Beacon has given me the liberty to, in some terms, create my own job. Our art teacher was dismissed a few years ago. I have an art specialist creden-tial along with my elementary and severely handicapped specialist credentials. I have used my art education in the past to integrate typical students with students with autism by providing art classes that would provide opportunities for all children to cooperate in creating their projects. Stepping into the "art teacher" position allows me to support the teachers as well as get to know each student individually by teaching an art class weekly.
How long have you been working with art, in general, and with special education students and art?
Not to reveal my age, but I have been in the special education field now for about 35 years. I found my "love" for the field in high school with the Re-gional Occupational Program (ROP). The ROP program placed me in a special day class for children with severe disabilities run by the Orange County Department of Education. I immediately knew that this was going to be my career. Many of my early mentor teachers included art in their programs, touching on several areas of instruction within an art lesson. My career has included 30 years as a special day class teacher, 1 year as an inclusion specialist, 1 year as an Autism Specialist Supervisor, and then this position at Beacon. I helped our director out when the school was just beginning. Then I came back a few years ago.
Why is this particularly gratifying?
A couple of aspects of each of my jobs that have been particularly gratifying have been these: the ability to use my creativity to provide programs that help each student progress to their highest potential and the pleasure of working with the families. I truly enjoy being able to share in those moments when parents can be proud of their child's accomplishments despite the many challenges that they have to face. I have also added "event planner" to my job description. Planning events when families can enjoy activities together has been exciting. The most recent was the Summer Relays event.
Do you feel that art strengthens individuals' skills in other areas, as well?
You can strategically touch on all areas of a student's specialized needs through an art lesson. Each week I like to include social skills, such as greet-ings, following directions, and attending to task. Language is also easily applied. I use sign language and gross motor movements in my art instruction. This increases their ability to model the instruction and participate in the project.
Does creating artwork also help students in sensory areas?
Yes. Depending on the media I choose for the month, I am able to include sensory activities in the lesson. Tearing, crunching paper, rolling, rice, sand art, glue, as well as gf/cf safe finger paint and modeling clay can be incorporated into the art lesson to provide sensory input and reduce sensitivity. Paper pulp in paper making was truly a project that brought challenges. Even some of the behavior interventionists were resistant to touching the pulp made from dryer lint.
What is your most important advice to parent who see their child display an inclination toward this?
Baby steps and high reinforcement. We cheered even when the students touched the paper pulp with gloves on.