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Danville teacher 'Made A Difference'

November 25, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

Some teachers accept jobs teaching special education students because it is the easiest way into the profession. Then, with their foot in the door, they'll move on to a normal classroom as soon as one of those positions opens up.

Debbie Young is not one of those.

"That makes me madder than anything," said Young, who teaches children with moderate and severe disabilities who attend Woodlawn Elementary. "You could not put me in a typical classroom. This is all I want to do. This is where I want to be. When I don't love it anymore, I won't be here, because these kids deserve more than that. If this isn't what you really want to do, then don't do it, because it's not fair to the kids and not much in this world is fair to them."

That kind of passionate dedication to her job and students helps explain why Young was recently honored as "A Teacher Who Made a Difference" by the University of Kentucky's College of Education. She received the award in Lexington on Nov. 6, after being nominated by the mother of one of her students.

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"Ms. Young has such a 'can-do attitude ... an open, accepting attitude," wrote Irene Hoskins, whose daughter, Payton Aitkin, is autistic and has been taught by Young for four years, in her nominating letter. "Lots of classroom parties, and a feeling of community and joy are transmitted to the children on a daily basis. She has genuine caring and a desire to see each child as an individual. Ms. Young is truly a caring, committed and passionate teacher."

Began as social worker

Young, 46, began her professional career as a social worker. That changed in 1985 when she worked as an instructional aid in a special education classroom.

"I was hooked then, so I went back to school to get my teaching certificate," she explained.

She began teaching full-time in 1995, first at Wilderness Trace Child Development Center and then in the Danville system before moving to Boyle County schools. She teaches students in kindergarten through fifth grades whose disabilities are severe enough to prevent them from being mainstreamed into a regular classroom. Most of the kids stay with Young all day long and remain in her classroom for as long as seven or eight years.

"We like it that way," Young said, adding that spending so much time with each student and bonding with them and their families is a main reason she finds the job so rewarding.

"I like knowing that I can do something that can really make a difference in people's lives," she said. "Not just on the kids' lives, but their families. We enable families to go on vacation because we teach their children to use the restroom and eat in public. It's so rewarding and so much fun. You get so attached that when they leave you and move on to the next level it's like sending off a member of your own family."

Katheryn Readnour and her son, Adam, 8, have become attached to Young as well. Adam, who has a high-functioning form of autism called Aspberger's Syndrome, has been under Young's tutelage since he was 2 and she worked at Wilderness Trace Child Development Center.

"I've been impressed with how she deals with the children on an emotional level," Katheryn Readnour said. "She is just so thorough and she knows how to deal with children on so many levels. I know she has made a world of difference with my son."

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