Being a Teacher and a Therapist for special needs children is a true calling. These individuals are key to the success of the children that they work with and often make more of an impact than they realize. Our AIM2Acknowledge program strives to give acknowledgement where acknowledgement is due.
Each month AIM will accept nominations, from parents of children with
autism, for a teacher or therapist who has made an impact on their child's life. Once a winner has been chosen they will be contacted by AIM and AIM will make arrangements to present the winner with a certificate and a gift card.
AIM will acknowledge our winners not only by presenting them with their certificate and gift card, but also through our social media outlets, website and monthly newsletter. The story that is shared by parents through their nomination will, also, be shared through the above-mentioned outlets. It is our hope to also include a picture of the winner as well as their bio.
Nominations will be open M-F, the 2nd week of each month.
Nominations will be reviewed the following week.
Winner will be announced the following Monday.
Mrs. Magsum lives in Bentonville with her husband and 3 children, who are currently 11, 12, and 14 years old. She has taught in the Bentonville school district for 8 years, the last 5 as a special education teacher at Mary Mae Jones Elementary, where she says she has had the opportunity to work with some amazing kiddos and families. Dalene had the opportunity to be coached by the Easterseals Project Prepare program a couple of years ago and received her STAR coaching certificate and now has the privilege to coach other teachers in the Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research (STAR) program. Mrs. Magsum told AIM “I love watching my students learn and develop new skills, and celebrating the victories that may appear small to others. I believe it is important to address functional skills as well as academics for our students, with the focus on helping them to become as independent as possible”.
In high school I participated in a program that allowed me to help in an elementary classroom a few afternoons a week. The teacher paired me with a student who was struggling to learn to read; it was there that I found my passion for special education. I already knew that I wanted to become a teacher, but working 1:1 with students and watching them grow showed me that special education was the right place for me!
Ridlee is amazing! She is so fun to work with and came to kindergarten with some awesome academic skills, so I wanted to keep her moving forward academically, but also focus on the functional and social skills she would need within the school environment. It has been so fun to watch her grow this year. When she smiles or responds to my efforts to engage with her I feel like she's sharing a little bit of herself with me and that is priceless!
Jessica shares why Mrs. Magsum is special to her family.
Mrs. Magsum is the Special Education teacher and STAR Program Coach for Bentonville school district. From the moment Ridlee became a Kindergarten student in her class, she has made her feel at ease. Ridlee began asking to go see Ms. Magsum daily early in the year. Ms. Magsum worked diligently to see under the iceberg of Ridlee's pragmatic issues to see what skills and knowledge she might have hidden. She always sees the best in Ridlee and knows just how to soothe her if she is upset. When this covid-19 situation occurred and Ridlee wasn't able to see her in person, she worked hard to present valuable videos that Ridlee looks forward to. She also is taking feedback regularly to see what ways she can improve the learning and opportunities for Ridlee and other students during this difficult time. It's not been an easy time, but she has handled it like a champ and Ridlee is thriving despite the situation and change. Ms. Magsum is truly an answered prayer for us for Ridlee.
Mrs. Magsum, AIM would like to thank you for being such an important part of the special needs community of NW Arkansas. Teachers like you hold a special place in our hearts.
Ms. French is a 1:1 Para Professional at Fairview Elementary School in Rogers. She works directly with Elijah Owens-Hamilton each day during school.
Before becoming a para-professional, I had just earned my degree in Child Development. I was at a place in my life where I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in my career path. A friend of mine was a teacher at a school who was looking for a 1:1 paraprofessional for a 2nd grade student. It sounded like a great fit for me at a great school. While it was still uncharted territory for me, I quickly fell in love with the job. My student, Elijah, is an absolute joy and everyone who meets him loves him. He quickly surprised me and his classmates with how intelligent he was and always kept us laughing. Fast-forward to today and I have been with Elijah for 3 school years. I cannot believe how much Elijah has grown and achieved in such a short period of time and I am so thankful to be a small part of his and his family’s life.
We've been told that since working as a para-professional you have decided to go into the Special Education field as a Teacher. Can you tell us what lead you to that decision?
After working with Elijah for the past three years, I truly felt called to go into the area of Special Education. I have such a passion for working with these students, and I love seeing the growth they are able to make. There are so many misconceptions that people have regarding children with special needs, and I want to be an advocate for these students and their families. While I know that this area of education can be challenging, I am so excited to move forward with the skills that I have gained through my experiences as a paraprofessional and I am thankful for the support I have had from LaNelle and the Rogers School District since the beginning.
Amy French has served as my son's paraprofessional since 2nd grade. She has been such an important piece of his success and his ability to be mainstreamed in the classroom. Elijah has blossomed largely because he has had Ms. French there to help support not only him but his teachers and classmates.
The way that Ms. French supports him has had a profound impact on those around Elijah and their awareness of autism and his needs. Inclusion would not be possible without her!
In the beginning, Ms. French was heavily relied on to keep Elijah engaged in class, safe from eloping and included with his peers. Now he is highly independent as a 4th grader and can maneuver the school environment more freely. She challenged him daily to excel and instilled in him that he could achieve whatever he put his mind to. Her presence in the classroom also allowed his classmates throughout the years gain empathy and understanding for Elijah to the point that they are very protective of him and genuinely root for him in a very sincere way. Elijah is considered a classmate and not just the special needs kid.
We are so sad that she will no longer be his paraprofessional but extremely honored that she has decided to pursue a career in special education, largely due to her experience working with my son. Our community will gain another compassionate and highly effective advocate for the special needs community and I'm happy that our family ignited that spark in her. Often the value of paraprofessionals is overlooked but Ms. French is a gem and she has made my life so much better by having her in my child's life.
Ms. French, Thank you for being a shinning star in Elijah's life and for choosing to become a special education teacher. We wish you the best in the next chapter of life. Special teachers, such as yourself, are much needed!
We are happy to announce Mrs. Debbie Onukwube as our March AIM2Acknowledge Therapist!
Debbie Onukwube is a licensed Occupational Therapist holding a Master’s Degree from the University of Central Arkansas (2015). Debbie completed her pediatric fieldwork under the direction of veteran Children’s Therapy TEAM Occupational Therapist Sharon Crosset.
In addition to her fieldwork in the States, Debbie also draws on her international treatment experience as a medical missionary with Village of Hope in Zambia, Africa.
While at the University of Central Arkansas, Debbie served as a member of the Student Caucus for Diversity in Occupational Therapy. She is proud of her own identity as an American with Nigerian/Igbo ancestry. For Debbie, “It helps define who I am.” Having many opportunities to travel internationally, Debbie has gained insight and perspective in working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Debbie embraces opportunities to, in her words, “learn from the families and gain their trust.” She notes that as a therapist, she becomes a small part of the families she serves. Debbie earned an athletic scholarship to play basketball at Lyon College as an undergraduate student, and she still enjoys playing basketball and working out in her free time.
I happened to stumble across the field of occupational therapy. I now know it was God that put it in my pathway. My undergraduate degree is in Psychology. I began to research what I could do after my undergraduate degree. As I was searching for different types of therapies, I literally fell upon occupational therapy on the web. It matched closely to my personality, my traits, and my willingness to help others in a variety of ways, and I knew it was meant to be. I love the idea of seeing a client (young or adult) in a holistic approach. Being able to assist them emotionally, physically, mentally, and/or whatever is needed in that moment, in order to see growth and success. Working in the pediatric field, I have learned the therapeutic approach does not just include the child, but the family as a whole. This is where the true value lies.
We love all of our therapists but one in particular has done anything and everything neccessary to help our Bella and family. She has attended multiple school IEP meetings, answered countless questions and has been one of my biggest supporters in everyday life. Bella has been able to attend fun, out of the house activities without the meltdowns we have had in the past- huge thanks to all the work she has done for our girl. My words can not express enough how much we are forever grateful for Debbie, Bella absolutely loves her. If you were to ask me two years ago if I think this day would come to where we could go out in public, I'd say no. Don't get me wrong we still have meltdowns here and there but they are manageable. Hats off to Debbie Onukwube and everything she does for her kiddos, I know other parents who have the same feedback as myself.
Mrs. Onukube thank you for being such an amazing part of the Special Needs Community in NW Arkansas and for making a difference in the lives of the kids that you work with.
We are very excited to congratulate Mrs. Stephanie Simpson on being chosen as our AIM2Acknowledge winner for November!
Stephanie received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR, in 2013. She went on to complete her Master’s degree in Communication Disorders, in 2014, at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Stephanie worked in a variety of settings during her clinical rotations including public schools, preschools, nursing home facilities, university clinics and private practice. Stephanie interned at Miracle Kids Success Academy (our sister company) in Jonesboro, where she determined early intervention to be her ultimate passion. She has treated a variety of speech-language disorders but she especially enjoys language therapy, helping children gain the fundamentals for communication and language development, which includes vocabulary, basic concepts, grammar, social skills and many additional components. Stephanie is passionate about communicating with parents and families about their child’s goals addressed in therapy. She believes it is so important that caregivers be informed of areas that their child is working on so that carryover, or generalization of these goals, is experienced in multiple contexts. Doing so not only strengthen’s her relationship with families, but it helps the child experience progress two-fold. In Stephanie’s spare time, she enjoys traveling and seeing new places, but most of all, she loves spending quality time with her husband and their family. Stephanie is actively involved in her church, specifically volunteering weekly in children’s ministry. Stephanie said, “I can’t deny, I love watching kids grow and learn!”
I always knew that I wanted to work with children in some way or capacity! I have always loved them fiercely, even as a little girl! The one-on-one and small group settings appealed to me greatly when I was considering speech therapy. I love developing such a personal relationship with each one of my kids. The longer I have worked in my field, the more I have fallen in love with giving my kids a “voice.” Life without the ability to communicate is lonely, isolating, and frightening! I truly love working with these children and their families to unlock their thoughts, feelings, and desires with the gift of communication. It is priceless! Children with special needs are true blessings from God, and often, they teach us more than we could ever expect!
Stephanie came into Cole's life when he was diagnosed at the age of 3 to, now, 7 1/2 years old. From the very beginning Stephanie has impacted Cole's life in a huge way. Cole went from being completely non-verbal with no communication skills, to using PECS and some verbal language, to using descriptive words, and adding more words everyday. I knew the moment that Stephanie and Cole met that God sent her to our family. Her kind and loving nature not only put me at ease, but made this scared timid little boy love her immediately. She has always been his fan. She has shown him that she believes in his success and ability to communicate with the world from day one. She helped give my family hope. She not only an amazing speech therapist, but is a huge advocate for Cole and all of her clients. When the laws changed she worked extra hours and led more paperwork to make her case that Cole needed 180 minutes instead of the capped 120 minutes a week which we are extremely thankful for. I cannot thank her enough for her dedication to Cole. Not only has she given my son the gift of communication, she has given our whole family the gift of support, understanding and encouragement. This has meant more to us than she will ever know.
Mrs. Simpson, all of us at AIM want to thank you for being an amazing Speech Therapist, for making an impact on Cole's life and for being a big part of the NWA Special Needs Community.
We are excited to congratulate Ms. Amber Peck on being chosen as our October AIM2Acknowledge Winner!!
I am a 37-year-old mom of the sweetest little man that is 10 years old and is my everything. Born and raised in Oklahoma but call Northwest Arkansas my home for the past 16 years. I received my undergrad degree in Early Childhood Education from John Brown University, a master's degree in Special Education from Harding University, and I graduated in December of 2019 with my Education Specialists degree in Education Leadership - Special Education Director from Arkansas State University. I am in my 5th year teaching special education for Sugar Creek Elementary School.
Teaching has always been a dream of mine. I would even pretend to play "classroom" with my stuffed animals as a young girl. Having the privilege of teaching Special Education has been one of the most influential aspects of my life. Every day that I see my students overcome their challenges motivates me to be a better person and teacher for them. I believe that students with special needs are more than their disability. I set high, achievable expectations in order to show them how capable they are. They teach me love, compassion, patience, acceptance, tolerance, and resilience. My heart is full! They are my WHY!
Maria shares a unique story as she has a twin sister who is also Autistic. In second grade, due to the district only having one special needs classroom per school, the girls did not do well in the same classroom at R.E. Baker, and Maria was moved to Sugar Creek elementary at our request. There she joined Miss Amber Peck, for the next three years, and what a successful experience and amazing transformation for Maria those three years became! In the first month alone, our small scared child who often would not speak or look people in the eye, was on a stage, a month in, with her class speaking into a microphone! This girl with little or no social skills, who only had friends who were teachers and not classmates, who would melt down and run away at the fear of being wrong or overwhelmed, transformed with constant assistance and encouragement from Ms. Peck and the entire Sugar Creek School experience of staff and students. Maria learned amazing social skills, how to be brave, how to be OK with making mistakes, how to make friends and be way more independent between classes and teaching her about expected routines and time frames. Ms. Peck helped her learn to express herself without hurting herself and others, and how to move into using words to get her needs met. Ms. Peck was willing to be in constant communication on a daily and weekly and sometimes weekend basis to help avoid miscommunications and meltdowns when Maria was miss- understanding what she expected was going to happen at school. Ms. Peck gave us her cell phone number and was THERE for us far above and beyond the normal call of a teacher, simply because she cared. The constant on par support between her communication and ours created a wonderful blend of transition and expectation at home and school for Maria that was very consistent and needed in Maria's strict memorizing world. She was an amazing blend of patience and love with boundaries and a no-nonsense or push over attitude, and that is EXACTLY what Maria needed to help her push through her amazing growth. And Maria successfully graduated 4th grade going into a partial Resource room experience for her 5th grade year! Her one regret was "next year, no Ms. Peck". Thank you, Amber Peck, for your amazing dedication, forward thinking and support when it came to helping Maria grow and learn throughout the last three years. You held your boundaries with her and showed patience while keeping in constant contact with us and allowing a support that bridged from school to home and back again. And it paid off beautifully!
~ Erica Schamber
Ms. Peck we thank you for being such an amazing teacher, for making such a wonderful impact on Maria and her family, and for being an important part of the Special Needs community in NWA.
Mrs. Farnan is an Occupational Therapist at Sunshine School and Development Center where she works with numerous children with autism and many other special needs.
If I could nominate the entire Sunshine School to receive an award, I would. However, Kathy Farnan has gone above and beyond since the 1st day we met her during our initial evaluations. When I took my daughter to Sunshine School for her evaluations, I was scared. Not only was I scared about all the information I had recently received about Eden, I was scared of what the day would be like trying to get my daughter to sit still and be evaluated. Our evaluation with Kathy was a breeze! Eden responded to her surprisingly well and at the end of it Kathy told me she was going to request that Eden be on her caseload. Let me tell ya, we hit the jackpot! Kathy has helped with everything for Eden from aggressive behaviors to sensory outlets, to visual schedules to encouragement for me. She has talked to me more times than I can count and everytime she gives me multiple ideas on how to help my child and improve her behaviors at home. She has made time to talk with me while not at work, she has sent home lists of sensory ideas for Eden. Everytime I have reached out to her, she has responded with not only help for Eden, but also encouragement for me. We are so lucky to have Kathy as our daughter's occupational therapist. I joke with my husband that I would gladly move her in with us and I'm positive that my daughter would love that. Eden loves Kathy and while she can't exactly tell me about her day at school. I do hear "my friend, Kathy" a lot and that's a pretty great feeling.
Mrs. Farnan, AIM would like to say a big thank you for being such an important part of the autism community in NW Arkansas!
Mrs. Lasiter, a native of NW Arkansas, and a Kindergarten Teacher at Centerton Gamble Elementary is our 1st ever AIM2Acknowledge winner. Mrs. Lasiter attended the University of Arkansas where she earned her degree in Elementary Education. The 2019-2020 school year is her 6th year of teaching at Centerton Gamble.
“Growing up, I learned to feel compassion, empathy and the true meaning of inclusion all because I have a brother who has special needs. Teaching is my true calling, and to be able to make an impact on the lives of those that have autism is an honor. We all strive to live, we strive to learn, and we strive to be loved. Students with autism need an individualized learning approach and it is important to me to be able to intertwine what they need individually with how I teach the whole group. Nothing is more near and dear to my heart than to teach a student with autism to shine in their own unique way while at the same time being shown love, kindness, acceptance and compassion from their peers.”
As a child enters kindergarten, it's normal for a parent to experience anxiety. When it's special needs child, that anxiety can be debilitating. Savannah Lasiter is the picture of what we need in American schools. She took the time to get to know Dawson inside and out. She met every accommodation with an open heart and an open mind. She sought out resources and guidance from other professions to ensure that every need was met. When he hit hard walls in his education, she would completely change her teaching style to meet his needs. She never gave up, never slowed down and always worked to find the best way to serve Dawson in her classroom. Because of her diligence and hard work, Dawson ended Kindergarten on track with his peers and ready for first grade. For the first time, I was able to leave my son with an adult with full confidence that he would be protected, cared for and loved as if I was with him. I am so thankful for Mrs. Lasiter.
Congratulations Mrs. Lasiter!!! And thank you for making such a huge impact on Dawson Skordal while he was in your Kindergarten class!
Mrs. Lasiter will be presented with an AIM2Acknowledge certificate and gift card on September 13th, at the Centerton Gamble