A different teaching experience

English teacher Jill Santana helps a student in English during second period. She is one of many special education teachers that work on campus, ensuring the students’ needs are adequately met.

Catherine Zhang, Feature Editor

Even though these Diamond Bar High School teachers often spend their time working just as diligently and tirelessly as the general education teachers, they are often overlooked due to the uncommonness of their field–special education. Special Education teachers, including math teacher Morgan Galeener, science teacher Barbara Vanderheyden and English teacher Jill Santana, devote their time to ensure that the Special Education students’ needs are adequately met, in addition to ensuring their academic and emotional health.

In addition, the program also consists of teachers Salli Collins, Grace Lemos, Melinda Corral, Adriana Garibay, and Tametha Fulcher.

Galeener, Vanderheyden and Santana’s classes have a close-knit structure as the class size is roughly 15 students compared to the general ed classes of  30 to 39 students.

“It’s so much more personalized, where I can really pinpoint each student’s needs,” Galeener said.

The Special Education classes are similar to the mainstream classes, albeit the classes are shaped according to each student’s needs. Santana’s lessons mostly consist of teaching and reteaching the material to ensure each student fully comprehends the lessons.

“It’s far more difficult, even though the curriculum is so simplistic compared to the general education. You really have to realize every student in special education has a learning disability of some sort, so you have to really learn how to teach each individual child,” Santana said.

Galeener, Vanderheyden and Santana all serve as case carriers, which has similar duties of GLCs, just focused more on academics. They ensure the students’ emotional and academic needs are met and also schedule meetings.

Also, Galeener and special education specialist Sally Jarvis overlook the Transition Partnership program in which they follow up on past students regarding their schools or work after attending DBHS.

“My main objective is that every kid leaves high school with the ability to live a high quality life, just like any other student, to be able to pursue a career or passion that they’re interested in, to be a contributing member to society,” Galeener said.

Vanderheyden, a special education teacher for four years, hasn’t always pursued teaching in the field, as she was originally intent on teaching AP and Honor classes. However, she felt like those students didn’t “need” her, so she set her sights on the Special Education curriculum.

“All kids need an advocate, and I have a big passion for underdogs so I absolutely adore my kids. I feel like I’m their big sister on campus. My kids inspire me, the odds are already stacked against them, but by the end of the four years, they’ve accomplished so much,” Vanderheyden said.

Due to the close-knit structure of the classes, Vanderheyden, along with the other Special Education teachers, develops a deep bond with her students.

“I find that students that have something going on outside of school, like a disability or something else that’s happening in their lives, they have the biggest hearts. Even though some of my kids are super tough, they’re like the most caring once you get past their tough shell,” Vanderheyden said.

Santana, previously a general education teacher, appreciates the honesty and straightforwardness of her Special Education students.

“I love special ed kids; I find them to be very uninhibited. They’re not afraid to tell you that they can’t do it or ‘I hate this. They’re very direct and wear their feelings on their sleeve so you don’t have to wonder how they are feeling,” Santana said.

In addition to teaching two Special Education English classes, Santana also watches over any student with learning disabilities while they receive  accommodations to take tests. Majority of these students are enrolled in general education classes and they are permitted to taking tests in her classroom for an extended amount of time.

Just like any other curriculum, the Special Education program may have stereotypes.

“I think that’s the problem with how others view Special Ed; it’s so easy to see those negative things. I would argue that they might be more successful after high school because they already learned how to face challenges here,” Vanderheyden said.

To combat these possible negative stereotypes, some of the Special Education teachers wish for more association between the general education and special education, who may not get to communicate on a regular basis.

“I’d love to see more interaction between some of the mainstream students and some of the special education students. I think that’s great collaboration, and I think with more interaction, more people will understand what special ed is and how we contribute to the school as well,” Galeener said.