Erica Beaton  • David Blake  • Emily Rosenthal • Michael Ryan

Pollard Middle School

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”

— Ignacio Estrada. 

This should be the motto of the Cluster 8-4 General Education Team. Erica Beaton (Science), David Blake (English), Emily Rosenthal (Math) and Mike Ryan (Social Studies) bring learning alive each day to each and every student. Whether through email check-ins, zoom chats, consults, assignments, greetings in hallways, encouragement in class or the willingness to think creatively and differently, they have broken down the barriers between special and general education and have created a true inclusive environment for learning. 

It is unusual for a group of teachers to be nominated for a SEPAC award, but so unusual are these teachers that four families came together to nominate them for the honor. As Principal Tamatha Bibbo commented, “Although unique to recognize a team of teachers, cluster 8-4 is just that, unique and special. They, as a team, have worked many, many hours to design and implement personalized lessons and instruction that meet the diverse needs of their students. They continually display their care, effort, and enthusiasm in countless ways — and always meet their students, where they are — without question or hesitation.”

As a team, the 8-4 cluster teachers work together and with the Special Education Liaison to provide for optimal outcomes for each student. Emily Dudek, liaison, shares “I can personally say that the teachers of 8-4 have made my job easier! These wonderful educators have gone above and beyond, making it possible for students with significant learning disabilities to be active members and participants in their classes. I have seen them all take extra time to make connections with students who don't always get that. The students feel welcome and safe in their classes. Most of all, they are pushed to do their best, work hard, and show just how smart they are.” 

Individually, Erica, David, Emily, and Mike give their heart and soul to each student. There have been countless moments throughout the year that each of these teachers have impacted the lives of the special education students they teach.  

One parent shared how Emily Rosenthal not only spent hours adapting her teaching so her son could understand algebraic equations and graphs with his vision impairment, but how she put Sherlock Holmes to shame figuring out why his test scores were so variable. “Instead of giving up on my child, she figured out it was the access to the testing material despite his regular accommodations. His disability was not allowing him to ‘see’ the test. Mrs. R taught him he could learn and that he should believe in himself.”

Erica Beaton demonstrated an example of her dedication to the Learning Center (LC) students shortly after remote learning began. Emily Dudek explains, “Erica asked to join my virtual LC to do an extra mini-lesson because she worried that my students missed some concepts. In a time when our nation is in crisis, families are struggling to teach their own children at home, Erica approached me with the idea of coming to a LC just to make sure everyone understood the concept as best they could. If that doesn't show dedication, I don't know what does.” 

David Blake has the ability to engage the students in a way that makes them want to learn. A parent explains how David used his relationship and creativity to encourage her son, a struggling writing student. David encouraged this student to act as a sports reporter and send him a recap of Celtics games each night they played. David would then provide feedback and writing growth ensued. Even after schedule changes, David ensured the relationship and writing continued. The parent wrote, “When the NBA was cancelled due to Covid-19 and school became remote, Mr. Blake sent my son links to old games on YouTube. My son was thrilled to receive Mr. Blake’s emails, and even to do the writing assignments! Those are words that I never thought I would say. True teaching magic.”

Mike Ryan has figured out a way to teach the curriculum to each and every student at their level. He will encourage each student to stretch themselves and to take the learning on.  One student shares “Mr. Ryan reviews all the information at the beginning of each class from the day before. I know that he will go over it with me again so I can understand it. He also puts all the information online easy to find in his slides.”  Mr. Ryan also makes class a place where the students want to be. As a parent said, “My daughter just loves going to Mr. Ryan’s class.”  

These four teachers individually and collectively have made incredible contributions to all 90 students they teach at Pollard. The beautiful part is they truly have done just that, worked with each and every student, giving their all to general education and special education students alike. They have shown what true inclusion and partnership looks like and, most importantly, have shown this to all of our children. 

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