Teacher earns state recognition for special ed work initiative

Published 9:24 am Thursday, April 4, 2019

Straughn Elementary School special education teacher Sherri Williams was recently recognized at the Alabama Transition Conference in Auburn, Ala., for her work with special education students.

Williams began her summer transitional program three years ago because she wanted her students to become better citizens.

“When these students graduate from high school we want them to be employable,” Williams said. “We just want our students to become better citizens.”

The program, which helps special education students work at a job during the summer, started out with only the county schools being involved. Now Williams has expanded to include all three school systems in the county.

“It is now any Covington County school,” Williams said. “We have had students from Pleasant Home, Florala, Straughn, and now we are partnering with Andalusia and Opp as well.”

Williams said that they try to teach the five basic skills that an employer looks for in an employee.

“We are trying to teach the soft skills,” Williams said. “Teaching them to be on time, to put up their cell phone, be respectful, dress appropriately and to write resumes. If we can teach them to do those five things then we will feel like we have accomplished something.”

She said that the best part of the program is seeing the students succeed.

“You get to work with the students a little while,” Williams said. “Then you actually get to see them graduate from high school and get a job. Then they come back to you and they say thank you. They will start with their little heads down and don’t feel good about themselves, and then by the time they graduate and finish the program they are holding their heads up. They feel better about themselves. One of the kids that graduated from the program last year is finishing up high school and is already employed in Opp. He was working a 40 hour week and going to school.”

The program meets in the Covington County Board of Education Building for a week to train the students in different soft skills and then they work at a business for two weeks.

“We train them for a week to make sure that they have the basics of being a good employee,” Williams said. “Then we partner with different businesses in the county that will employ the students for two weeks out of the summer. Sometimes it works out to where they can work there longer.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver recognized Williams on her work with the summer program at their regular board meeting Tuesday evening.

“This is not an easy thing to do,” Driver said. “But it is a great transition program. It takes work to make it happen, because you have to find them a place to work at and somebody who is willing to take them and then you have to follow up and make sure the kid is doing what they are supposed to do.”

Williams said that she was honored to receive the recognition, but it was not only her that has been doing the work.

“The state department recognized that we in Covington County have done something,” Williams said. “So they came down and interviewed and checked out what other people were doing. They took it back to Auburn and then recognized me for the work, but I didn’t think of it as work. I thought of it as wanting my students to succeed. “