December 2 is Special Education Day

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December 2 is Special Education Day, which marks the anniversary of the nation’s first federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was signed by President Gerald Ford on December 2, 1975. This law ensures students with a disability receive a Free Appropriate Public Education tailored to their needs.

At David Douglas School District (DDSD), we are so grateful to have many staff who are absolutely dedicated to diversity and inclusion with our students with disabilities. Thank you to all staff, but especially our learning specialists, instructional assistants, teachers in supportive learning classrooms, teachers in the community transitions program, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, counselors, student behavior specialists, autism consultants, school psychologists, assistive technology specialists and many many more. Thank you for continuously ensuring we care for ALL of our students.

Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma, DDSD Equity Specialist, interviewed our Assistant Director of Student Services and Principal of South Powellhurst, Ms. Sarah Altig. During the interview, Ms. Altig shared her personal and professional experience working in special education.

Why did you want to become a Special Education teacher?

I grew up in the David Douglas School District, attending K-12, with two older brothers who paved the path before me. One of my brothers, the middle of us three, was born with multiple disabilities, ranging from various physical disabilities, including blindness, to cognitive deficits that impact his daily living skills.

Growing up with a brother who has special needs has profoundly shaped my view of the world and how to navigate it. It has taught me the value of patience, the importance of understanding individual differences, and the impact a supportive and thoughtful educational environment can have on a person’s life.

My brother’s journey through the education system opened my eyes to the challenges and victories individuals with special needs face. I witnessed firsthand the difference that dedicated, compassionate teachers made in his life – not just academically but in his overall well-being and self-esteem. This experience made me want to be a part of that positive change and contribute to creating an accessible learning environment for all students.

What brings you joy in your role?

The students. From being at Community Transitions Program (CTP) to working with related services staff, to guiding special educators, I get to see the product of everyone’s collaborative work in our district to get our students to where they are now. Some days can be more challenging than others, but I try to look for the positives in every situation and know that the students benefit when we can look for what they can do instead of admiring what they cannot do. Every day presents a new opportunity to make a difference, and that fills my cup as well.

Anything else you’d like to share? Either about yourself, your role, or the students you currently work with or have worked with?

I started my career as a self-contained AFS teacher in the middle schools here in DD. I have seen the pendulum swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other around the word inclusion. While attending a Special Olympics banquet with Florence Protopapas recently, I was reminded of the quote by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, “Inclusion is not something we do to someone; it is something we do with someone.” It reminded me of my “why”, and that inclusion truly means providing equitable access to all students…meeting them where they are at, and providing them what they need to access their education and, ultimately, their community around them to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.

Visit our Student Services Special Education webpage to learn more about our department.