Although Bonnie Feickert, started teaching by “accident”, the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) teacher at LaBelle Middle School, states that she loves it and wouldn’t do anything else. After earning two degrees (communications and liberal studies) from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, she obtained her teaching certification and began teaching ESE classes in an elementary school there. After a year of teaching at the elementary school level, Bonnie realized that age level of students was not for her so it was time for a change. Before the first year was over in the middle school level, she knew that she had found where she belonged. After five years of teaching in Orlando, Bonnie, a 1995 LaBelle High School graduate, knew it was time for her to return home, bringing enthusiasm, creativeness, imagination, etc. along with her.
One of the biggest assets of this department is the team that has been put together and how each member shares the work that has to be done. Besides Bonnie Feickert, teacher, there are three paraprofessionals: Kim Kemp, Samantha Wooddell, and Sandra Howard. This team works so good together that no one has to be told what to do. The rewards of this work are many.
During the school year, there are from six to ten teaching assistants that help out. Some teaching assistants begin in the sixth grade and continue until they have to go into high school.
In the state of Florida and possibly the whole USA, ESE teachers and their paraprofessionals have been rumored to be “babysitters,” but that is definitely not the case at LMS. Besides their regular studies such as reading, working on the computer, speech, occupational, and physical therapy, these students work at jobs which are: recycling, shredding, beautification, and gardening.
In recycling they collect aluminum cans and crush them. When the cans are sold, the money is divided between the students. This is their money to do with as they wish. If they want to go out to eat, they have to order and pay for what they want. The students also save tabs from soda cans to donate to Ronald McDonald House. In shredding, they stay inside and shred documents for the school and teachers. In beautification, it is outside to pick up the trash and such in the school yard. Each one has their own bucket and picker to get the trash. In gardening, they grow vegetables and flowers, and also have a bird feeder that has to be cared for. The jobs are rotated about every nine weeks.
These students need structure, repetition, and life skills. The life skills class room includes a stove, sink, and washer/dryer. During football and basketball seasons, the students launder the football and basketball uniforms. Two “flip and folds” were purchased so that uniforms are straight. A flip and fold is a plastic item where you lay out the garment. Then you fold in the sides. This make the folded uniforms all the same so that they can be straight and neatly stacked. Under supervision, the students are even taught how to cook.
Every morning about 9:30, the students have a snack. The wheels in Bonnie’s brain started spinning because she knew there was something, maybe a life skill, that could be taught instead of just handing out a snack. She used her imagination and invented: “The Snack Shack,” a pretend store. She made laminated play one dollar bills – enough that each student would get $3 each. One student acts as a cashier while the other students order and pay for their snacks.
It is not all work and no play for these students. During the year, these students have what is called “Fun Friday,” where they watch a movie. Different outings into the community are also planned during the school year.
The summer class is a combination of high school and middle school students, plus 5th graders that will be going into the 6th and attending LaBelle Middle School.
During the summer program, the therapy dogs were brought to class once a week. These dogs are not just for loving, but to teach the students a number of things. One week there was a demonstration on oral hygiene. The dogs’ owners brought special toothbrushes and paste because regular toothpaste can be harmful to a dog. Dr. Darryl Damon, DDS, of LaBelle, donated oral hygiene items, and some students practiced with their new toothbrushes, too.
The next week’s therapy dog visit was “paw print” time. Each dog put their paw print along with the student’s hand print on poster paper for each to have as a keepsake.
If Bonnie can figure out how to get the students out into the community, she will. The school system has two vans and a bus to which ESE teachers have access. She and her crew loaded up and took the students to Walmart for a scavenger hunt. Each student was given an item to search for and the area in which it would be located.
These are just a few of the reasons that Bonnie was awarded the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year for LaBelle Middle School in 2013.
When watching Bonnie, Kim, Samantha, and Sandra work with these students, you can feel and see love and joy all around them in everything they do.