The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 22, 2011

Woman recognized for special-ed work

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — In Gretchen Cole-Lade’s special education class at Enid High School, everyone matters and everyone counts.

But one paraprofessional who has worked one-on-one with a student for three years now was named Outstanding Special Education Paraprofessional by the Oklahoma Council for Exceptional Children.

Julie Steele has been a paraprofessional for eight years. For the past three years, she’s spent most of her time supporting senior Zachary Durheim’s needs.

Lade and Zachary Durheim’s mother, Terri Durheim, nominated Steele for the honor.

“I think in order to appreciate what a wonderful paraprofessional Mrs. Steele is, we have to consider what her daily tasks involve,” Terri Durheim wrote in her nomination letter. “When I drop my son off in the mornings, he essentially becomes her responsibility. She has to keep him organized, keep him on task. She has to get him to transition from one task to another, she has to deal with his mood swings, oppositional behaviors and his lack of focus.”

In Lade’s letter of recommendation, she said Steele sets the bar high for Zachary.

“Mrs. Steele continually demonstrates not only flexibility but high expectations for him every day,” Lade wrote.

However, Steele is only one of the complement of people who make it possible for the students to succeed.

On Friday, the 39 members of Circle of Friends came into the classroom at 1 p.m., paired up with the special education students and headed to the high school track to walk laps around it. The laps are being counted because the students are working on the Oklahoma City Memorial children’s marathon May 1. They will walk 25 miles before May 1, then go to Oklahoma City to walk the final 1.2 miles of the marathon.

Senior Bobby Schoemaker, a member of Circle of Friends and a volunteer with the special education class for three years, says he plans to join the Air Force. He’s helped with Special Olympics and pitched in many places to assist Lade’s students — often without being told what is needed.

Junior Ericka Sturgeon wants to become a special education teacher. Last school year, she was in cooperative physical education class and helped with Special Olympics. This school year, Sturgeon still helps with Special Olympics and does many other things to assist as a member of Circle of Friends.

“I’ve gotten to know the kids and they’re amazing,” Sturgeon said. “And, they are fun to be around.”

The next Special Olympics for the class will be the state meet, scheduled for May 11-13 at Stillwater. Track and field, horseshoes, bocce, swimming and softball are on the slate of sports events.

“This will be our culminating activity for Circle of Friends,” Lade said.