BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Since joining the Anthony Wayne High School staff in 2011, Jackie Baker and Aisha Kaemming have shared a classroom, students, lesson plans and enthusiasm for motivating their students to learn and grow.
During the October 8 Anthony Wayne Board of Education meeting, the two intervention specialists were recognized for a shared honor – Teacher of the Year.
The aides in their classroom, including Cassandra Bishop, Sharon DeMuth, Carla Eagleson, Carmen Fritz, Molly Krise and Maria Matney, were named Support Staff Members of the year.
The team is making a difference in the lives of students, said Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz.
Both teachers had different career plans when they entered college.
Kaemming was studying early childhood education at The University of Toledo, with a goal of teaching K-3.
“My student teaching was in an inclusive classroom, and I was drawn to the kids with special needs,” Kaemming said. Later, she was a one-on-one aide for a girl with Down syndrome. Those experiences convinced her to focus on students with moderate to severe developmental disabilities.
Baker was majoring in physical education at Kent State University when she created an adaptive phys ed class as an assignment – and she was hooked.
Both earned bachelor’s degrees in special education with a focus on those with moderate to severe developmental disabilities.
“I felt that these kids needed the most help,” Baker said.
Often the two teachers hear, “How do you do this? You must have a big heart.”
The joy they each receive from watching their students accomplish a milestone is what drives them to teach. Tasks that the average teen takes for granted are challenges to be overcome by these students, the women agree. It could be counting money, identifying coins or completing a worksheet.
“They have the purest hearts and are not worried about popularity,” Kaemming said.
“They come in with a positive attitude every day, not a ‘poor me’ attitude,” added Baker.
Both acknowledged that their students are nevertheless still teens and can have some attitude and behavioral challenges, but mostly those are not within their control.
The teachers work together to give students the life, vocational and social skills necessary to live and work after graduation.
That means leaving the classroom to participate in activities such as busing tables or frosting cookies at the Hope United Methodist Church’s weekly community luncheon; cleaning and organizing the equipment at Julie’s Fitness Studio; and folding gowns at Rebel Chiropractic.
At the high school, the students wash and dry the towels used in the cafeteria, gather the recycling from bins and deliver packages to classrooms. Every Friday, the students sell coffee to staff members.
“They’re getting skills that you need while working on a job, like money management and social skills,” Baker said. “We’re teaching the students, but we’re making it more functional, such as budgeting and paying bills.”
Getting these students out also gives the community an opportunity to get to know their personalities.
“Many of the students here know our kids,” Baker said of the high school. “We have students in each of our classes on the cheer squad. It’s becoming a more inclusive campus. The kids here are very respectful toward our students.”
When the two first arrived, they essentially wrote their own curriculum, but have since split up the duties so that Kaemming teaches English and social studies while Baker’s focus is science and math.
“Our students are a lot smarter than what people think,” Baker said. “High expectations do not equate to being too tough.”
“They still need expectations and someone believing they can meet them. If we set the bar high, they’ll achieve more,” added Kaemming.
Each student has different abilities, so the teachers use different techniques to find one that works. That includes Google Classroom, iPads and other technology, in addition to traditional methods.
“I enjoy the challenge,” Kaemming said.
“Every day is different. It’s never a routine,” Baker added.
Because students can remain in the high school class from ages 14-21, the women become like second moms to the students.
“Sometimes they’ll give us the attitude that they give their moms,” Kaemming admitted with a laugh.
“We get attached,” Baker said. “I call them my kids.”
Receiving the Teacher of the Year Award is a testament to their hard work as a team, Kaemming said.
Carmen Fritz, one of the Support Staff Members of the Year, has been an aide for 22 years at the high school and other buildings.
“It’s nice to be recognized for what we do,” Carmen said. “I enjoy it and love working with the kids, especially that light bulb moment when they get it.”