Huntington, Ind.—Northwest Elementary School Principal Jay Peters' special attention to special needs students has earned him a statewide award.
Peters, a 1980 Huntington alumnus, will receive the Administrator Award from the Indiana Resource Center for Families with Special Needs (IN*SOURCE) on Nov. 3 during the organization's annual conference in Bloomington.
The Administrator Award recognizes a school administrator's commitment to working with students with special needs and their families. Peters was nominated for the state award by Northwest resource teacher Jennifer Johns and emotional disabilities teacher Cari Lindsey, as well as by several parents of Northwest students. IN*SOURCE asks parents and teachers to nominate administrators for the award through a newsletter.
In Johns and Lindsey's nomination letter, they praised Peters' "outstanding work and caring attitude" toward all students at Northwest and special needs students in particular and said his attitude is "contagious" among the school staff.
They pointed out that Northwest houses the Huntington County Community School Corporation's only emotional disabilities (ED) classroom, where students come to learn in a self-contained, structured class when they have difficulty functioning at their regular school buildings with other students. Teachers help these students become ready to eventually re-enter general education classes at their home schools.
"While many principals may look at this with disdain, Jay looks at this as an opportunity to help these students, and he certainly rises to the occasion," Johns and Lindsey wrote. "Once a child with an emotional disability is transferred to Northwest, Jay immediately takes ownership of that child's physical, emotional, behavioral, and educational needs. His work with the special needs students at Northwest touches the lives of the staff, students, families, and the community."
The teachers told how Peters makes a point of building relationships with each student in the ED classroom, as well as with their families.
"It is a regular occurrence to see Jay listening to a special needs child struggle through his book report and then reward that student for all his hard work, or assisting a wheelchair-bound child with toileting needs," they wrote. "Jay has even been known to provide a shower, clothes, shoes, or food to the special needs students when they are in need."
In addition to the ED classroom at Northwest, the school also has had students in its general education classrooms who have special needs, including some in wheelchairs, some who are visually impaired, and some who are autistic.
Johns and Lindsey said Peters also headed up a campaign to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van with a lift for a family at Northwest. The single mother had two sons with spinal muscular atrophy, her van broke down, and she could not afford repairs or another van, they said, and Peters raised money to buy the family a suitable van.
Sandy Martinez, the mother of a general education and two special education students who attended Northwest, also wrote a recommendation letter and praised Peters for the individual attention he gives to each child in the building.
"I can't express the gratitude I have for the peace of mind that came with knowing my children were loved and well cared for while they were at Northwest Elementary," Martinez wrote. "You cannot find a better principal than Mr. Jay Peters. I wish we could clone him and put him in every school my children will attend."
Parents of another student who transferred to Northwest last January wrote that their son did not like school before transferring but feels comfortable at Northwest.
"After (our son) started school, Mr. Peters would ask him how he was doing," they wrote. "If (our son) had a good week, the two of them would have lunch together on Friday in the cafeteria. All in all, Mr. Peters has made our son's life in school more enjoyable and productive. (Our son) never seemed to have more fun at school, and his grades have never been better. We believe this is a direct effect of Mr. Peters' influence on his staff as well as on his students. Northwest would not be the same without Mr. Peters."
Peters emphasized that the award recognizes not only him but others in the Northwest community who help special needs students to succeed.
"I'm not about awards," he said. "I'm very humbled by it, but it's not about me. It's about the true heroes - the students, the parents, the excellent teachers we have, my resource teachers, as we have partnered together with our parents and families, making that partnership that we believe all kids can learn."
Peters quoted a saying that describes his philosophy toward dealing with students: "'Kids don't care how much you know unless they know how much you care.'
"It takes an excellent group of teachers and resource teachers that how how to specifically program for kids to know how to make this work," he added. "It hasn't always been easy, but we've been able to see the rewards."
Peters will receive the award during IN*SOURCE's Nov. 3 reception at the Bloomington Convention Center. The awards reception will also honor others who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to students with special needs and their families.
The focus of the Nov. 3-4 conference is finding innovative traditional and non-traditional methods to help special needs students find their learning capabilities.
IN*SOURCE is the state organization that works with families of children with special needs to help them understand the services available to them.
This article was written by Beth Shindle, a staff writer for The Herald-Press in Huntington, Ind. The article was posted with permission from The Herald-Press.