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Community Partnership Awards

Each year, the Federation gives Community Partnership Awards to recognize the “unsung heroes” – those parents, educators, advocates, health professionals and community leaders, who have made a significant impact for children with special needs. These awards are the Federation’s way of acknowledging what individuals contribute not only to families, but also to communities. Their efforts enrich the entire community and make it a more accepting place. This year’s Community Partnership Award recipients were:

Kathy DeasyKathy Deasy, a special education teacher in an inclusive kindergarten classroom at North Falmouth Elementary School, not only teaches each of her students to accept each other, but also encourages them to learn from each other. This mutual learning happens because Kathy has a unique way of enabling her students to see themselves as learners. This unique gift, which she imparts to each child in her classroom, gives them the confidence to tackle new subjects and skills, some of which were initially difficult. Kathy is indeed an exceptionally special teacher.

Dr. Denise MessinaBalancing the fiscal needs and special education needs of a school district can be daunting, but Dr. Denise Messina has found the right balance. She has been the Special Education Director at Monson Public School District since 2006. In that time, she has helped the school district develop cost-effective special education programs that make it possible for more students to be educated within the district. This helps the students feel connected to their school and community, and meet their full potentials. These expanded, inclusive special education programs more fully support each student’s transition from one school to the next. Dr. Messina realizes parents are important partners to the special education process, and has helped revitalize the district’s PAC (Parent Advisory Committee). They work together to develop services that are both educationally sound and fiscally solid.

Suzanne RussellSuzanne Russell’s students will not make the honor roll this year. It’s not that her students get bad grades; the Haggerty Elementary School in Cambridge does not have an honor roll. After teaching in various settings, Suzanne, a general education teacher, was drawn to the school because inclusion was not just something that happened in one or two classrooms. The entire school culture is based on inclusion. Parents who send their children to this school believe in the power of inclusion and reinforce what their children learn at school at home. Suzanne not only teaches her students their 5th grade curriculum. She also teaches them to respect and accept one another. Working with two assistant teachers, she teaches students to work independently when they can, to ask for help when they have questions, and to seek additional instruction when they need it. This differentiated learning model enables every student to learn according to his or her own abilities. Everyone is different, yet everyone belongs; Suzanne makes sure of that.

Barbara RicciBarbara Ricci’s journey as a parent advocate and leader was typical, but her accomplishments are anything but typical. When her son Danny was diagnosed with PDD/NOS in 2003, she realized she had a lot to learn. She also had a lot to contribute. In 2005, Barbara helped start, and has since chaired, the Webster SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Committee). She participated in the Federation’s Parent Consultant Training in 2006. She then used her natural leadership ability and her new advocacy skills to build bridges with parents, school staff and the community. Barbara teaches other Webster parents to advocate for their children, and encourages them to be part of the community. In fact, each year, SEPAC members march in the Webster Memorial Day Parade. The SEPAC has also organized fundraising campaigns to fund speakers, and to provide parents with scholarships to attend local and statewide conferences. Barbara not only successfully advocates for her son, but also generously shares her knowledge with her community, so that everyone in Webster benefits.

Tiffany GundlerIn many ways, Tiffany Gundler is a typical high school junior: she takes honors classes; she likes to hang out with friends; she plays soccer and softball; she bowls and figure skates. Tiffany is also profoundly deaf. She attended the Clarke School for the Deaf for 13 years, where she learned the importance of self-advocacy skills. When she started attending her local high school, she brought those skills with her. Before the start of each school year, Tiffany meets with her teachers to tell them about herself, her deafness, the types of supports she needs, and how to use her FM system. She attends and runs her Team meetings, and speaks up in classes and during activities when she needs something. After high school, Tiffany plans to attend college. No doubt, her remarkable self-advocacy skills will help her succeed.

Amelia Grace PlaceThe school playground in Scott and Julie Young’s town of Rockport is a popular gathering place. Their daughter Amelia loved to swing there, while watching her brother Nate and sister Anna play. Like most children in wheelchairs, Amelia could not easily access many of the playground activities that are available to other children. After Amelia’s sudden death in 2006, Julie turned her grief into a vision. She wanted to create a playground in Amelia’s memory. Family, friends, and their community raised 1/3 of the funds within the first year. To ensure that it was built in time for her other children to enjoy it, Julie donated the rest of the money. The Amelia Grace Place was completed in November 2008. It is filled with whimsical items that would make Amelia smile, and it is the only inclusive playground on Cape Ann. Nate and Anna play there, and children and adults with disabilities can also play there, as everyone can make it to the top of the 8-foot tower.