Steamboat Educator of the Year offers special approach to students with special needs
Steamboat Springs School District Educator of the Year Jo Kushik-Sinclair is admired by her peers at Steamboat Springs Middle School in part for her “fearless” approach to helping students with special needs pursue academic life without acknowledging any limitations.
“Jo’s best practice philosophy is interwoven in her daily experience, resulting in an innovativeness that is her norm,” middle school fine arts teacher Susanmarie Oddo wrote in her nomination letter on behalf of Kushik-Sinclair. “This fearlessness is what I admire most about Jo. She is an advocate for our students, working feverishly to uncover best practices for them no matter how long it takes.”
Kushik-Sinclair has been a special education teacher/resource interventionist in the Steamboat district for three years in the midst of a 17-year career.
People who meet her for the first time quickly sense her passion for what she does. Kushik-Sinclair said this week her own interpretation of a fearless approach to her career is all about believing that all students can learn and continue to learn.
“We all have rights, and I keep up with special education rights,” she said, “but kindness counts and fearlessness is based upon everybody’s individuality.”
Before she attempts to introduce her students to new skill sets, Kushik-Sinclair said she takes the time to build a personal relationship with them.
“To me, best practices start with the social, emotional self,” she said. “You have to start with the person as a human being. You have to meet them where they’re at, which is really exciting … you have to be able to read somebody’s energy, listen and be present with them before you go anywhere.”
However, once Kushik-Sinclair establishes a personal rapport with her students, it’s down to work. Kushik-Sinclair said she lets her students know they are likely to go through life having to work harder than others to reach their goals, but they shouldn’t settle for lowering those goals.
She tells them, “That’s OK, it might take more work, but you can do it.”
Kushik-Sinclair, who is raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, acknowledged that her work is often exhausting, but she draws strength from colleagues and middle schoolers themselves.
“I do not do this alone,” she said. “Our team at the middle school is amazing. We have that grit that we’re trying to model for the kids. But we also laugh a lot. I can’t emphasize enough how supported I am at this school. It’s silly to put this (award) on one person.”
Oddo would beg to differ.
“Ever wonder sometimes what you would do if fear was not a factor? I’d be Jo for a day — experiencing life through her lens, only to profoundly awaken my true potential in a way that only her can teach us,” Oddo wrote.
Kushik-Sinclair said expanding her students’ perceptions of what they’re capable of is her greatest reward.
“I’ve watched them grow from insecure to become the most competent, beautiful people,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have constant running jokes among us. When they came here as sixth graders, they were really down on themselves. Now, they’re talking about being writers, lawyers, mechanical engineers and veterinarians.
“That’s huge for me. They have visions for their future, and that’s how I measure my success.”
<em>To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email <a href=”mailto:tross@SteamboatToday.com“>tross@SteamboatToday.com</a> or follow him on Twitter <a href=”https://twitter.com/ThomasSRoss1“>@ThomasSRoss1 </a></em>
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