CCA special education teacher works to personalize learning process

CCA teachers work closely with families to offer a uniquely tailored experience for their students.​

A mother once phoned Monique Uttecht, a learning support and special education teacher in the Pittsburgh region at Commonwealth Charter Academy, with an urgent request. The woman’s son, a high school junior with special needs, was threatening to drop out of school. In his brick-and-mortar school days, he had been held back so often that he was older than his classmates, and now he thought he’d be better off working a job.

Uttecht heard the mom’s pleas. She talked to the student and brought in a CCA assistant principal, who told the boy about the consequences he was facing.

“Something we said clicked, and he’s now one of my most engaged students,” Uttecht said. “He’s doing very well and wants to graduate and end up with his diploma.”

For special education students and their parents, CCA offers a uniquely tailored experience. Students receive personalized support, and parents — acting as their children’s strongest advocates — find teachers and administrators who are receptive to their suggestions.

Uttecht grew up in a family of educators and said she “always liked working with students who needed that little extra push.” At CCA, her duties vary but always focus on the needs of individual students.

  • Individualized education plan (IEP) meetings include those for students entering from brick-and-mortar and other schools. Because some of the elements of traditional IEPs, such as extra time for comprehending lessons, are built into CCA learning, the IEPs of new students are revised to include specially designed instruction.
  • Skill-based lessons concentrate on each student’s trouble spots in reading and math. Instead of generalizing the learning support to the subject, Uttecht’s strategies zero in on the student’s particular stumbling block, such as fractions or reading comprehension.
  • Transition planning prepares students for life after school, reviewing options in higher education and career training.
  • Virtual lessons in executive skills help students build the tools of success, such as time management and organization.

Uttecht speaks at least biweekly, and sometimes daily, with students and their parents.

“I get to know my students on a much more personal level than I ever did when I taught in a brick-and-mortar school because I get to spend more one-on-one time with them,” she said.

While Uttecht concentrates on juniors enrolled in general education who need extra support, CCA educates students in all grades with a full range of special education needs. Some enroll in kindergarten and continue their school careers at CCA. Many others enroll in high school because “middle school is where things fall apart in brick-and-mortar schools, and parents seek out something else,” Uttecht said.

One student told Uttecht she felt more connected to her CCA teachers and was “more secure in asking questions and asking for help.” The difference shows in academic achievement.

“When they feel comfortable asking those questions, they get the answers they need and get that extra help,” she said. “That has a domino effect.”

Uttecht believes she is making a difference in the lives of students and their families.

“I’m able to be more effective because I can be more involved with my students and get to know them on a more personal level,” she said. “I can be an advocate for them in their lives.”