For Anderson University College of Education students Kayli Fontaine and Hannah Moore, the decision to major in special education comes directly from the heart.
Dr. Joanna Stegall, department chair of educational specialties in the College of Education, wants the special education students to have experiences with people who have various disabilities—in a variety of settings beyond the public schools. The purpose of these experiences is to provide future special education teachers with a more complete picture of the rich and full lives that people with disabilities can experience.
Kayli Fontaine can’t recall a time when she didn’t want to be a teacher. When she was growing up, it seemed normal for kids to say they want to be a doctor or police officer or—yes—a teacher. But Fontaine, now a junior at Anderson University majoring in special education, says she wanted to be a teacher when she was a child—and has stuck to that ever since. Babysitting helped reinforce her love for children and desire to someday be a teacher.
When she entered high school, Fontaine entered the Teacher Cadet program at Wren High School. Being a Teacher Cadet also gave her an opportunity to tour Anderson University. There, she fell in love with the campus and looked into programs offered by the College of Education.
Fontaine got to know a couple of individuals who helped her choose special education.
“My little cousin—she was adopted—came into our family back in 2014. She was a foster child. She has cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury. We instantly fell in love with her,” Fontaine said. “She’s nonverbal—she can’t walk, she can’t talk—but we have a special bond that you don’t find often.”
She also met Connor, a boy with cerebral palsy who is nonverbal.
“Not many people know how to communicate with them, which is one of the problems socially; many people don’t know how to communicate, and that’s where that barrier is,” Fontaine said. “We instantly clicked. We love being around each other. He’s just such a bright spirit.”
Fontaine said she once received some impactful advice from special education teachers she knew at Wren High School. She learned that children with special needs know whether or not you’re sincere when communicating with them.
“They may be nonverbal, they may have a low IQ, but they definitely can pick up on those cues when they know that you’re not interested in teaching this, or you’re not interested in talking about this… so definitely building relationships with your students is very important, because your students can pick up on that,” she said.
Since coming to Anderson University, Fontaine has come to appreciate the wealth of experience her professors bring into the classroom.
“They are so educated and knowledgeable about special education… they always give us different scenarios ‘this is what happened in my classroom,’ and things like that,” Fontaine said.
Dr. Stegall commented, “In the College of Education we are very blessed to have young adults that are eager to teach students with various academic, social/emotional and behavioral needs. Kayli’s love, dedication and compassion for students is very evident by her actions and words. I am very thankful to serve Kayli and the other special education majors. Our graduates are having a positive impact on public school education.”
Fontaine has been able to extensively research her chosen field and is leaning towards teaching life skills and social skills to students with emotional disabilities.
“I actually just did a research project about whether a lack of social skills affects mental health and children with autism, and found that those two are very closely related. So being able to teach those social skills to hopefully help students with their mental health… I was like, ‘okay, this is definitely something that I’m interested in.’ So that was definitely eye opening to what I did want to go into the field and to do,” she said.
A first generation college student living off campus, Fontaine still feels very much a part of the Anderson University community.
“My friends—they’re very inclusive and realize I live 30 minutes away. I am here a lot, and there are so many places to study, or I’ll talk to the lady at the front office,” she said. “It truly is such a warming place to be.”
Hannah Moore initially was studying nursing at another college and thinking she wanted to go into healthcare. But as she began to work at a hospital, she felt things just didn’t click. As she was considering career alternatives, one day she was talking with her friends and someone suggested, “Why don’t you go into special education?”
Moore has spent lots of time caring for her twin brother, who is on the low functioning spectrum of autism.
“I take care of my brother Monday through Friday after I get out of school. He goes to an adult day care program from 8 in the morning until he gets here in the afternoon about 3. When I get out of class I go home and basically do everything to help my parents,” Moore said. “Basically everything he would do for himself that he can’t do, I do for him.”
When she graduates from Anderson University, Moore hopes to be a high school special education teacher.
“I want to work with kids who have more severe disabilities instead of moderate. There are different areas, like resource or moderate to severe, or severe,” Moore said. “I want to teach more functional skills, for them to be able to pay with money or wash their clothes or make their bed—stuff like that that they’ll need to know when they get into the real world.”
Moore is grateful to her professors at Anderson University who have taken her knowledge beyond the experience she’s had caring for her brother.
“I’ve learned since being at AU and being in this program that just because you have somebody with disabilities in your family and you think you know what it’s like; for them, you don’t because there’s so much more you can learn by going through this program,” Moore said. “There’s so much terminology and so many laws that you don’t know unless you’re taught.”
Moore also appreciates the wealth of experiences serving alongside others who serve those with special needs.
“We do clinical programs where we get to go and basically teach and shadow a professional educator in our program. We get to work with students individually or as a whole in their class,” Moore said. “There’s this place called the Rainbow Gang, which is an adult special ed program. We’ve also gotten to go to the group homes for special needs adults and the special needs board of education. Dr. (Joanna) Stegall sets it up and provides you with the opportunities.”
Dr. Stegall commented, “Hannah embraces opportunities to learn more about community supports for people with disabilities. She will be an incredible advocate for this population in and out of the classroom.”
Moore feels that anyone planning to go into special education should have an open heart, an open mind and a willingness to get out of their comfort zone.
“Half the time you do something out of your comfort zone it ends up being one of the best things ever, and you remember it for a lifetime,” Moore said.
The Anderson University College of Education
The Anderson University College of Education focuses on the intellectual development of the student, while being attentive to the ideals of character, servant leadership and cultural engagement. Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, onsite or online. Details can be found here.