Creating “A Life like Yours” for Students
with Intellectual Disabilities
Megan Smith, Special Education teacher at Central High School has been selected as the 2017 Arc of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Educator of the Year. Ms. Smith was the public school Educator of the Year winner for the entire Northern Valley region which includes Shenandoah, Frederick, and Clarke Counties and the City of Winchester. She was recognized at the annual awards banquet on March 10, 2017.
Megan Smith (right) is pictured with Nichole Pangle, Executive Director of the Arc of the Northern Shenandoah Valley (Arc/NSV). Arc/NSV is a local chapter of The Arc of Virginia and The Arc of the United States, organizations made up of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, friends, interested citizens, and professionals.
The Arc/NSV values the dignity and worth of all people. The central focus of this organization is advocacy and the right to community inclusion for all. . . the right of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities “to have a life like yours.”
When she was fourteen years old, Megan Smith began helping her dad coach Special Olympics in Frederick County, Virginia. Her participation in Special Olympics and the enduring relationships that she built with those athletes are the reason she pursued a career as a special education teacher. Ms. Smith, who has taught students with intellectual disabilities in Shenandoah County Public Schools for three years, graduated from Lynchburg College with a BS in Special Education. She is currently enrolled in a Masters’ program through James Madison University with an emphasis in Visual Impairments.
Gina Stetter, Director of Special Education in Shenandoah County Public Schools, describes Megan Smith as a “skilled, dedicatedteacher. In tune with her students’ needs and strengths,” wrote Ms. Stetter in her application for Megan’s nomination, “she designs instruction tailored to provide the academic, employment, and independent living opportunities they will need to be successful in school and in adult life.”
To help students prepare for employment, explained Ms. Stetter, CHS’s Special Education Department identified pre-vocational and job opportunities within the school, the campus, and the community. At school, for an example, Ms. Smith’s students complete applications for jobs within their skill and interest level and interview with different teachers for various positions that are available. They work at their awarded jobs; and then as their skills and confidence develop, they apply for new jobs at Central. Often employment opportunities arise in the community. CHS Special Education students regularly unload, shelve, and help manage donations for A Small Hand, an outreach project that provides diapers, food, clothes and other necessities for infants.
In addition to providing for students’ academic and employment skills, Ms. Smith “recognizes the critical social andnd emotional components of her young people’s lives,” wrote Ms. Stetter, “To have ‘a life like yours,’ all individuals need opportunities to interact and build relationships with others in the community.” When she was helping her dad coach Special Olympics, Megan experienced the positive impact that participation in sports can have for allathletes. She recognized that unified sports, which include students with and without disabilities, had the potential of breaking down barriers and dispelling misconceptions among general education students and special education students.
For the past three years, Ms. Smith has applied for and received the Champions Together! Grant through the Virginia Department of Education. These funds allowed Central High School, under Ms. Smith’s leadership, the ability to fund interscholastic teams that include high school students with and without disabilities. In the Champions Together Club, said Ms. Smith, “there is no separation between the students.”
Evan Gochenour, Central High School student, stands with a friend from
Handley High School. Both students participate in Champions Together,
a unified Special Olympics program. Unified teams include students
with and without intellectual disabilities.
These recreational opportunities have expanded into a Unified Sports Management / Fitness Mentorship class which meets three times a week at Central High School and the development of Shenandoah County Special Olympics, all under the leadership of Ms. Smith with the assistance of her husband, Hayes, and fellow coach, Caline Rexrode.
As a result, students have had opportunities to compete in and travel to regional and state events as well as present at the recent National Special Olympics Unified Conference in Columbia, South Carolina. There Ms. Smith, the school’s athletic trainer, and the students presented information about Central’s Fitness Mentorship Program.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, CHS students with intellectual disabilities go to Athletic Training for fourth block, put on their pedometers, and get ready to have fun! Students from the Sports Medicine class lead a group warm-up activity before they divide into smaller groups and participate in student-led activities.
(From Left: Teresa Martilik, Daniel Morel, Zachary Lineberry, and Megan Smith present
the Fitness Mentorship class at the National Special Olympics Unified Conference
in Columbia, South Carolina.
Students from Sports Medicine class led Fitness Mentorship class.
Ms. Smith stated that, “Fitness Mentorship takes the simple concept of play and uses it to motivate students to gain self-confidence by developing new skill sets in the area of social skills, leadership, and self-care, for the students in general and special education alike. Inclusion doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, Fitness Mentorship reveals that it can be quite natural and simple. ‘Do we have a trainer today?’ This question has become the most popular question in the special education classrooms at CHS since beginning the Fitness Mentorship program,” said Megan Smith. “Students simply love it! The ultimate goal, said Ms. Smith, “ is for this class model to translate into the hallways, cafeteria, and life outside of the walls of CHS.”
Gaining international attention, Central High School’s Fitness Mentorship program hosted the President and Managing Director of Special Olympics for the Middle East and North Africa last May with Special Olympics VA as well as Special Olympics International representatives.
From left: Casey Rubenstein, Nicole Baker, Ayman Wahab, Lexi Keller,
Cianne Fields, and Trainer, Teresa Martilik
“Megan Smith is powerful in her influence,” wrote Ms. Stetter. “She impacts the lives of her students and adults each day. As a teacher and a coach, she takes the gift of love and inclusion she received as a 14 year old and magnifies and spreads it throughout our region. She creates meaningful opportunities for learning and interacting for individuals with and without disabilities. She inspires those she meets to interact and develop relationships which makes our community better. Her desire for everyone is to have “a life like yours.”
Congratulations, Megan Smith
2017 Northern Shenandoah Valley
Arc Educator of the Year