By Melanie Rodriguez, Senior, Editor in Chief
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For this edition, I had the pleasure of interviewing my Pre-K teacher, Ms. Sylvia Tamargo. Her years of experience as a special needs educator are certainly admirable, but above all, her devotion and compassion for each of her students are what make her so special.
Read below to see what improvements Ms. T believes are yet to be made in order for society to become fully accepting of individuals with special needs.
1. Why did you choose to work in special education?
"Originally, I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, specifically pediatrics. During my senior year in high school I organized a Holiday Toy Drive for the children at the Mailman Center. I immediately fell in love with the kids and knew in my heart that I wanted fo work with the children that needed it the most. At that time, there were no services provided for students with special needs in the public education system. It wasn’t until 2 years later in 1975, while I was attending Barry University, that Public Law 94-142 was enacted by Congress which provided a free and appropriate public education to all children with disabilities. Helping exceptional students throughout my 42 years as an educator has been a joy and a privilege I would never trade for all the money I would have earned as a doctor!"
2. How many years did you work as a special education teacher?
"I worked for 42 years in Miami Dade County Public Schools. I wore many hats during my tenure including but not limited to teacher of students with Intellectual Disabilities, Varying Exceptionalities, Learning Disabilities, Emotionally and Behaviorally Disabled, Pre-K Reverse Mainstreaming, Pre-K LEAP (Autism Spectrum) and Behavior Management."
3. What did What does Disability Awareness Month mean to you?
"Disabilities Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness and educate the public about the special abilities, skills and talents of people with special needs. Focusing on what a person with special needs CAN do encourages and promotes a more inclusive society. Personally, I would like to rename the month and call it Exceptional Abilities Awareness Month which I believe is more positive and accurate!"
4. What do you wish more people would understand about working with individuals with disabilities?
"I wish more people would understand that working with students that have ‘disabilities’ or, as I prefer to say, special needs, is extremely rewarding. There is no greater joy than witnessing a student experience an “I got it!” moment. Knowing that you were a part of making that ‘aha’ moment happen in the life of a special needs student is the greatest reward in the world."
5. What steps do you think should be taken to implement more accessible programs both schools and the community?
"In order to implement more accessible programs in schools inclusive practices are essential while maintaining qualified special education educators to ensure that the special students’ needs are met. Inclusive practices do not mean placing students in regular education classes and hoping that they will thrive. Successful inclusive practices require collaboration between qualified special education teachers and trained regular education teachers and staff. Teamwork and team planning are necessary in order to meet students’ individual needs so that they can reach their maximum potential. Once the groundwork is set at the educational level, the community and society as a whole will be better informed, educated and accepting of all persons along with a wide spectrum of their abilities instead of their disabilities."