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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Special Education Teacher Named A Finalist For Prestigious Golden Apple Excellence Award

Golden Apple

In special ed, teachers usually work with fewer students, and the relationships they build -- not only with kids but also their parents -- can become very close. The school year has been especially challenging with COVID-19 restrictions, but Maddi Bodine has kept forging those bonds -- even online or through plexiglass. She’s a pre-K special ed teacher at Kingston Elementary.

“I've always emphasized with the families, please let me know how I can help you. My job doesn't just end with when the kids leave, especially at this age. There's so much going on with the kids as they're learning and adjusting to being in school,” she said. “And a lot of times parents do have questions that maybe older grade level teachers don't really get.”

People have taken notice. Bodine was named a finalist for the Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award. She was shocked to learn she had been nominated. When she first got the email, Bodine thought one of her co-workers was being nominated -- maybe she should write them a letter of recommendation. But, at another glance, it was her. She’s one of 32 finalists in the state, out of more than 700 educators.

She remembers early in her career seeing other educators win these awards and didn’t quite see herself at that level.

“You would read the bios of some of these teachers and all the stuff that they're doing. OK, that's never going to be me. I'm not breaking barriers and going above and beyond, with students, so, to have someone think that about me was definitely very, very encouraging with all this going on right now.”

This year she’s had to go above and beyond, almost by necessity. That means talking with parents to support them through their child’s development or dropping off chairs with trays for students to use when they had to learn from home so they had a little bit of familiarity.

She sends out surveys to connect with families and is also working with her special ed kids in person. Teaching pre-K adds another layer. Many of her students had never been in school at all before the fall, and the others were used to playing with each other without a second thought to social distance.

It’s been a challenge to assess students through different formats and help them grow. Many special education students have struggled during the pandemic with their daily schedules disrupted. But Bodine says seeing them still get to sing a little further apart or watch each other slide down the slide as the weather warms up has kept her feeling positive. That’s in the midst of a year that has burned out countless teachers and students.

And getting nominated for a prestigious award during it all -- it just reminds her why she wanted to be a special education teacher in the first place.