Instructor Earl Jeffrey monitors dive student Chavonne Guthrie in a pre-dive safety check for an Open Water Dive.
Open Water Dive students were just certified; November 2012 at Dilts Bay. From left to right: Sidney Warren, instructor Earl Jeffrey, Jayden Heaton, Paige Heaton, Chavonne Guthrie, William Peele, and Moses Nix.
Instructor Earl Jeffrey assists dive student Paige Heaton up the slippery rocks at one of Hydaburg's beach access Open Water Dives.
Story last updated at 4/3/2013 - 3:25 pm
Classes begin with an exchange of greetings and a brief discussion of topics important to the students: basketball, favorite videos, future plans, hunting practices, perhaps an update on recent fish caught. Students in the small community of Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island enjoy the informal banter and value the empathy shown by teacher Earl Jeffrey who likes to start class by catching up on his student's interests, listening carefully and developing a personal connection with each student, many of whom have special needs.
Jeffrey's approach to teaching special needs students comprehensively with other students has eliminated traditional general education/special education barriers.
"His ability to work with every student, regardless of individual challenges, is something we should all strive to accomplish," said Lauren Burch, Superintendent of the Hydaburg School District and the Southeast Island School District. "Mr. Jeffrey is an exceptional teacher and his diving program is the envy of every small district in Alaska."
This exemplary personal emphasis to include special needs students in all activities won Jeffrey the State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Governor's Council on Disabilities & Special Education, 2013 Inclusive Practice Award. The award was presented during the Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference (ASSEC), which was held in Anchorage in February.
The Alaska Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education established the Inclusive Practice Award to bestow recognition on outstanding educators who work to ensure students with disabilities have the opportunity for an inclusive education with their peers as part of the general education curriculum. Nominations are made by parents, students and educators.
After graduation from Eastern Illinois University in 1988, Jeffrey headed to Fairbanks, Alaska to seek a teaching job, expecting to work with special education students, much like his influential mother; a career special educator. Since his parents had lived in Sitka in past years, Jeffrey had heard tales about the wonders of Southeast Alaska and was pleased to land a job in Hydaburg even though he had never been there.
The rest is history, as they say. Jeffrey has taught scuba outdoor education, shop, physical education, history and senior seminar at the junior/senior high school in Hydaburg for 23 years now with a goal for his students to become self-reliant and independent. Since the district has a staff of nine, all special education students have been in at least two, sometimes four of his classes each year. No one has ever failed.
"The best part of my job is the ability to get out of the classroom with the students," Jeffrey said.
One of his classes, scuba outdoor education, offers a rare opportunity for students to learn diving in public school. Jeffrey is often teased by other staff members about having the best teaching schedule and the most fun; he can't disagree.
Asked whether students learn by helping the special needs students, Jeffrey said, "I have had the situation where special education students are the mentors for the class in both scuba and vocational scenarios. They sometimes are my best divers and shop kids by far; there is no line drawn there at all for ability."
To increase career counseling in Hydaburg, Jeffrey created the senior seminar class, which is built into the daily schedule of each senior, allowing them time each day to talk and work on their post high school plan. Jeffrey focuses on the present and future for all students; eliciting thought about how their present decisions can affect their future lives. Many students keep in touch with Jeffrey as a trusted friend after graduating and moving away; often soliciting his encouraging influence.
In order to accommodate such a wide variety of students, Jeffrey continuously assess each student's needs and takes time to verbally instruct, easing the burden of challenging text and long, written descriptions while confronting students with higher level thinking questions as opposed to only factual recall.
Jeffrey maintains supportive relationships with parents, focusing on the children's strengths and encouraging a positive perception of the children. His hard work and genuine interest has earned Jeffrey the gratitude and respect of parents, students, educators, and community members. Burch summed it up, stating, "I'm very proud that Mr. Jeffrey was honored with the award. No one could deserve it more."
Carla Petersen writes from Thorne Bay. She is a freelance writer and artist. Visit her website at whalepassoriginals.com or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.