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Teaching By Example

Posted Oct 17 2008 6:19pm


Stroudsburg school aide with Down syndrome has advantage in classroom

Barbara Kavelines was 15 when she decided what she wanted to do in life.

She accompanied her mother to Take Our Daughters To Work Day at Morey Elementary School in Stroudsburg and spent the day in a learning-support classroom.

Barbara Kavelines was 15 when she decided what she wanted to do in life.

She accompanied her mother to Take Our Daughters To Work Day at Morey Elementary School in Stroudsburg and spent the day in a learning-support classroom.

After that day, the teen knew she wanted to be a teacher, working with students with special needs — kids diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, or other mental and physical disabilities.

Ms. Kavelines knew their challenges well.

She herself was born with Down syndrome.

Over the next several years, she graduated from Pocono Mountain Senior High School, enrolled in Northampton Community College, where she made the dean’s list and earned a certificate as a teacher’s aide.

For the 2006-2007 school year, she worked as an aide in the Stroudsburg Area School District.

Ms. Kavelines’ story was recently featured in Woman’s World, a national magazine.

It’s the latest highlight in a long list of achievements and awards for the 23-year-old, who lives in Coolbaugh Township, Monroe County, with her parents, John and Mary Louise Kavelines.

From the time Barbara was a child, Mr. and Mrs. Kavelines always encouraged her abilities, making sure she had as normal a life as possible, with all sorts of opportunities, from swimming lessons to acting in school plays. “When she was born, the doctor said to treat her just like any other kid,” her father recalled.

School days

Like her older brother, Drew, Ms. Kavelines attended Coolbaugh Elementary School and Pocono Mountain Intermediate School, then moved on to high school.

There were people along the way, of course, who didn’t think she would accomplish all that she has. “Even today, she always has to prove herself to people who don’t know her,” her mother said.

That fateful Take Our Daughters To Work Day came when Ms. Kavelines was in ninth grade. Mrs. Kavelines is a speech and language pathologist at Morey Elementary, and upon arrival, she introduced her daughter to Sherry McIntyre, a learning-support teacher. Ms. Kavelines ended up spending the day in Mrs. McIntyre’s classroom. That night she told her mother she wanted to teach.

Mrs. Kavelines admits she was a bit worried by the announcement. “I had a lot of trepidation as to how this would ever come about. How could we find something that would fulfill her needs?”

But the family soon learned of a program in the Pocono Mountain district for students with disabilities. It paired them with Lehigh University graduate students who acted as job coaches, taught them workplace skills and helped them secure a kind of internship in certain fields. Through that program, Ms. Kavelines spent part of each school day in Ms. McIntyre’s classroom in Stroudsburg, learning how to be a teacher’s aide.

“I loved being with the kids,” she said.

Liked classroom

The experience cemented her goal of working in a classroom.

As Ms. Kavelines’ high school graduation neared, her mother learned of a teacher’s aide certification program at Northampton Community College. Ms. Kavelines applied and was accepted, enrolling in the school’s satellite campus in Tannersville.

It was a daunting challenge — she had to keep up with the other students in her classes and master college-level material. “It takes me slower (longer) time to understand the material,” Ms. Kavelines said. “But I learned a lot in the classes, about (special education) students and their exceptionalities.”

She managed by keeping her course load light, with just one or two classes each semester. It took her four years instead of the typical two, but Ms. Kavelines was a dean’s-list student who also was active in the college’s theater productions. She received the school’s Mirror Award for the 2003-2004 school year. It’s given to a student each year for outstanding dedication and work in a play.

Ms. Kavelines’ graduation in May 2006 was a source of immense pride for her and for her family.

“It meant everything to us because we always had very high expectations for her. We wanted her to be able to do whatever she wanted to do,” her mother said.

The receipt of her teacher’s aide certification meant another challenge — finding a job. Ms. Kavelines had spent a summer in college volunteering as an aide to Mrs. McIntyre for a camp for kids with special needs. She returned as a volunteer last summer.

There wasn’t a paid position available in Mrs. McIntyre’s classroom for the 2006-2007 academic year, but Ms. Kavelines found a sponsor, Fitzmaurice Community Services, a social-service agency, that would pay her a modest salary to work as an aide.

“I love doing math with the kids, and sometimes I do reading with the kids,” Ms. Kavelines said. “I had a student I worked with helping him to write his name.”

She became close to the students — first- and second-graders — and also to Mrs. McIntyre. “She became a mentor and my friend and she’s also my boss,” Ms. Kavelines said.

Kids accept

Since her mother teaches in the district, she got to see from time to time how Ms. Kavelines was doing. “The kids adore her. They know her as ‘Miss K.’ We’ve been at the mall and have run into her students and they run up to her and say, ‘Miss K! Miss K!’,” Mrs. Kavelines said. “And that’s an affirmation that they’ve accepted her.”

Ms. Kavelines’ presence in a learning-support classroom is good for the students’ parents, too, her mother believes. They get to see the possibilities that are out there for people with disabilities.

Other teachers and school officials also have taken notice of Ms. Kavelines’ work. In 2005, the first year she volunteered, Stroudsburg Area Education Association gave her its Friend of Education award, in appreciation of her commitment to students.

Right now, Ms. Kavelines and her parents are looking for someone to sponsor her salary for the upcoming school year. There is a hiring freeze at Morey Elementary, her mother explained, but they hope that if it is lifted, she can apply for a paid position.

But still, the family is grateful for all the blessings Ms. Kavelines has received. “She has been thrilled that she’s done so well,” her mother said, “and that she’s been so well-accepted.”

Meet Barbara Kavelines

Age: 23

Residence: Coolbaugh Township in Monroe County

Family: She is the daughter of John and Mary Louise Kavelines and has an older brother, Drew, who lives in Pittsburgh.

Work: She has been a teacher’s aide in a learning-support classroom at Morey Elementary School in the Stroudsburg Area School District.

Hobbies: Acting, spending time with friends, swimming, fishing with her father, drawing and music.

©The Times-Tribune 2007

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