Challenge is part of an everyday routine for this 11-year teacher at Harris County Department of Education’s Academic and Behavior School East, a small campus near Gulfgate Mall with 350 students with emotional and intellectual challenges. Students ages 5-22 travel here from their home district on a contractual basis and thrive in a nurturing, specialized environment, with one teacher and an aide for every eight students.
Gardner teaches skills which can be generalized outside of the school. Through positive behavior management and support, Boy’s Town curriculum and applied behavior analysis, she reinforces her lessons. Students learn to vote in a mock presidential election. They plant a vegetable garden and learn the parts of plants. By turning a vocational lab into a pizza parlor for the day, social skills are reinforced.
Principal Mindy Robertson calls Gardner passionate and faithful. This year she is Teacher of the Year for her campus, one of four special schools provided by HCDE.
“She has been instrumental in growing our vocational program for students in the life skills program and takes a leadership role in supporting new teachers with special education case load management,” Robertson said.
Classroom learning solutions are important for Gardner. Though seemingly simple, the results are life-changing. There was the student who had a pattern of screaming and running across the classroom while biting his hand. Perplexed and worried about the repetitive behavior, Gardner worked to find answers and found that the boy wanted water. Once the behavior was erased and he learned sign language to request water, he was able to return to his home campus.
Another student who is a high-functioning student did not want to participate in vocational activities this year. He would sit with his head down, disengaged from his classmates, using profanity and refusing to work. Once she introduced cooking, he came out of his shell. Now he’s in charge of the oven and assists others with cooking activities.
“It takes a special type of person to work with special needs populations with behavioral disabilities,” she said. “You can’t take the student’s behavior personally. Every day is a new day.”
In Gardner’s world, all her teacher colleagues are superheros. In that sphere, she spiritedly calls herself superwoman. Her personal super-power superlatives are positivity, dedication and the desire to improve the lives of those around her.
About Harris County Department of Education: HCDE provides special education, therapy services, early education, adult education and after-school programming. Services are funded by government grants, fees and a local property tax rate of $.005195. For every dollar in local property tax collected, HCDE provides $4.40 in services to the 25 Harris County school districts. HCDE also operates four campuses for students with profound special education needs and adjudicated youth who require a low student-teacher ratio and highly structured environment. One-hundred percent of students served on HCDE campuses are at-risk. The organization is governed by an elected board of seven trustees and has 1,060 employees and 33 facilities, including 15 Head Start centers. More info at http://www.hcde-texas.org .