Ms. Vessella’s Students Will Always Be Special to Her

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Lauren Claire Avelino, Staff Writer

Ms. Teri Vessella is the department chair of the Special Education Department at Glendale High School, and she has been a part of this program for a couple of years now. She started teaching at GHS in 1995, as an English teacher, and she was even the chair of the English Department for a while.

Ms. Vessella decided to take on the role of being department chair for Special Education, because she “wanted to help my family.”  Her sister, Mrs. Betsy Astor, was previously the head of this department, but she had taken ill. Ms. Vessella decided to step in, because she already “knew a lot of the leadership” that she needed in order to be a department chair.  

In the midst of this pandemic, Ms. Vessella admits that it is pretty hard to stay on top of her job. With our current distance learning situation, she says that she misses her students and things “are just not the same when you’re on Zoom.” But even though she doesn’t get to see all of her students face-to-face, Ms. Vessella claims that “it’s my responsibility as a professional” to just keep on pushing forward and to teach remotely. 

The students that are a part of this department range from having “very minimal communication skills, to students who are in AP classes.”  Lately, Ms. Vessella says that it has been hard for the students with low communication skills to participate in class, because they need one-on-one guidance from a student-aid, but “they may not have them at home.” 

Ms. Vessella says that these students are still required to complete the subjects that they need for graduation, and their teachers try to be flexible with how they teach every subject on Zoom. Their classes are arranged the same way as those of other students in school, with each class also being 80 minutes long. 

At the beginning of each school year, Special Education teachers are also required to have Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings with each student and their parents. At those meetings, they talk about the goals that each student has to meet before the end of a school year, and it is also a way for teachers “to show how much [they] care” and how much they want their students to succeed. 

When it comes to extracurricular activities, some of the students with an IEP also participate in “Adaptive P.E.” This course depends on a student’s physical abilities and the resources that they have available to complete each physical activity. Ms. Vessella says that these students also get social interaction with each other on Zoom, and some of them are even a part of the Best Buddies Club at school. 

In October of last year, certain students were set to go back on campus, including the ones in Special Education, but they couldn’t do so because of the coronavirus. Personally, Ms. Vessella remains hopeful that her students will return back to campus soon, but “teachers should be vaccinated” first before they can see their students again.

For the students who are graduating this year, the department and the district have worked together to make sure that their transition out of high school goes pretty smoothly. In a regular school year, Ms. Vessella says that “normally we’ll have a Glendale College field trip,” where these students can talk with faculty about their attendance to that campus, if they choose to go there. However, because of distance learning, she hopes that they can do it virtually this spring.

Looking towards the future, Ms. Vessella feels that the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end. In terms of her job, she also expresses that she loves teaching here, and she sees herself “continuing in this for another 12 years” until she is able to retire. Ms. Vessella claims that her life has changed a lot because of the pandemic, and she can’t wait to figure out what to do next, after this pandemic is over.