Did you know that 1 in 7 public school students have a disability in Ohio, according to the 2019 Ohio Special Education Profile. This is a statistic that has become more publicly accurate since 1975 when the first federal special education law was signed on December 2. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is that law, and the reason we now celebrate Special Education Day each year on 12/2. Prior to it passing in 1975, most children with disabilities were denied outright access to learning opportunities. Although we still have a ways to go, we must celebrate all of the hard-working individuals who have dedicated their careers to working with disabled youth and paving the way for education to have a more equitable place for everyone in our country. In fact, we would like to highlight one of our own inspiring educators who works in one of the special education programs at the ESC of Central Ohio.
Let us introduce you to Katie Koerner (she/her), who is currently in her 5th year of teaching. Katie teaches in a low-incidence classroom that is located at Central Crossing High School (CCHS) in the South-Western City School District. She recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati with her Master’s in Special Education with a Transition to Work endorsement and Graduate Leadership certificate. Along with being the high school JV cheer coach, she also coaches the Comet All-Stars (the Special Olympics cheer team) at CCHS and is a coach for Buddy Ball in Grove City during the summers.
In her classroom, Miss Koerner supports students in enhancing their skills with job readiness, as well as socially and academically. There is also a focus on building up functional life skills to help them as they transition to post-secondary education and/or job training. “Teaching students with disabilities is so rewarding!” Katie exclaims, “Being able to teach them important skills and watch the students use the knowledge gained to reach their full potential is so fun!” When asked about students’ favorite parts at school, it was clear how much of an impact having important tasks and jobs has had on them.
One of the in-school weekly jobs is at Comet Café, the school coffee shop that sells beverages and goodies to staff in the building. Katie is proud not only because the café has been successfully running for 5 years, but also for the learning opportunities it has brought the students; “Comet Café benefits my students in many ways from social interactions, job skills, classroom resources and supplies, and even possible funding for future community-based instruction.” Another weekly job that connects the students with the community is with LifeCare Alliance, an organization that runs Meals on Wheels locally. Miss Koerner’s students assist in providing meals for those in need, such as the elderly, medically fragile individuals, and individuals with disabilities. Their job consists of disassembling meal boxes by removing ice packs, disposing of any leftover food, and disposing of the old meal bags and cooler liners. They also reline the new meal bags to get them ready for the next day’s delivery.
When talking about highlights in the classroom, Katie told us, “As a special education teacher, I often wear many different hats and have numerous roles within the classroom. Sometimes this limits the time I get to engage with students the way that I hope and can also become difficult to build rapport with students. To allow the opportunity for me to get to know students as well as encouraging peer interactions, I embedded social skills time into our daily schedule. As the year progresses, students take away so much from this time! I love that my students are learning to communicate more effectively and appropriately but also building friendships with their peers and teachers. The more my students get to know one another as well as their teachers, their personalities really blossom and it’s so fun to watch!”
We at the ESC, along with the students, are so lucky to have passionate educators like Katie who devote their time and energy into helping the students become the best versions of themselves. Children with disabilities deserve to not only have access to education, but also positive learning experiences that help them grow. If you want to make a difference and become a Teaching assistant (no licensure required) or an Intervention Specialist, check out the positions at https://www.escco.org/Careers