CCA special education teacher helps meets students' needs, amplify their strengths

CCA teacher Sarah Carr works with high school students who have the greatest need of support.

Years ago, a child with autism who befriended the son of Commonwealth Charter Academy teacher Sarah Carr inspired her to change her career and experience working with children who have disabilities. She left her sales position in a software company and returned to college to get her degree in special education.

Now, Carr – who works out of CCA's Williamsport office – works with CCA high school students who have the greatest need of support. She uses her natural creativity and patience to design and adapt the virtual lesson plans to meet the unique needs of each learner. She agreed to share some of the insights she has gained from her teaching role.

“The key to being a great special education teacher is knowing the background of the learner, specifically their strengths,” Carr said. "Knowing their level of ability allows you to create a curriculum personalized to meeting needs.”

Her students benefit from virtual education especially because each lesson can be centered around their skillsets and strong points. This teaching strategy is tremendously effective when working individually with students who have varying levels of ability.

To encourage participation, many engaging forms of media and technology are incorporated, including Hollywood celebrities reading aloud and the interactive whiteboard. The latter facilitates sharing answers, modeling examples, setting up educational game boards, charting information and collaborative writing.

She rewards her students at every step to reinforce class participation and other signs of improvement. She said it is remarkable when a concept finally “clicks” for someone who has worked hard to make sense of it. In this situation, she contacts parents, guardians and other learning coaches, in addition to her regularly scheduled calls and personal email updates, to share the student’s progress.

Good communication establishes rapport with class members and their families. Indeed, CCA teachers understand the importance of being an available resource to their students.

For the same reason that communication is imperative to educational success, so is flexibility. When a family is making the critical decision about where to educate its children, the freedom of school choice is a large factor. Other schools might not be able to accommodate a student’s needs. CCA is a viable option for families of all backgrounds looking for a place to educate their children, including those with medical conditions that require frequent hospital visits and those with an individualized education plan (IEP).

“Very few leave until graduation,” Carr said. "I hope CCA will be the choice of many families. There is a rigorous curriculum that prepares you well. You may get to stay at home, but it is still very balanced.”

Carr has witnessed growth and improvements in her field. Learners with special needs are no longer grouped into one category, regardless of their level of ability. If there is evidence of greater need for support, students undergo testing after enrolling in CCA to determine their placement.

As has been noted, student placement is a positive change, but CCA also has bettered relations within the organization. It positioned departmental managers to give teachers a resource for advocating on behalf of themselves and their students. Children deserve to feel as though they can learn in a safe environment. An adept support system removes barriers for learners with special needs.

On the whole, the quality of a CCA education continues to advance and Carr is fulfilled with her choice of a career in high school special education. In Carr’s words, “CCA is moving upward and onward!”


Commonwealth Charter Academy


April 26, 2017


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