Harwood Union High School students and teachers gathered just after noon Monday for a school assembly, but it also included something special. They were honoring one of their own -- a teacher nominated for a national award by her co-workers.
"Two teachers actually did it together -- jointly -- and recognized a coworker for a program called Speak Out, that she initiated several years ago that has had a tremendous influence with students with disabilities," said Harwood Co-Principal Amy Rex.
Colleagues and students nominated Maureen Charron-Shea for the LifeChanger of the Year Award for her work as a special education teacher. Six years ago she helped her special ed students produce a documentary as a service learning project. For the first time, it gave them a voice to tell their own stories.
"I think it is when she hears students stand up in front of people and share their stories -- there is something powerful about that -- I think for all of us in education -- when a young person feels confident enough, safe enough to share their stories with others," said Steve Rand, a Harwood English teacher.
Charron-Shea was recognized in front of the school for the work she has done with her students, past and present. "Each year LifeChanger of the Year will honor ten outstanding educators, and today we are here to recognize one of them. Maureen Charron-Shea was selected as a top three finalist out of hundreds of nominees across the country," said Mallorie Manosh with National Life Group, the administrator of the award.
As one of the top three finalists, Charron-Shea has been invited to a national awards ceremony in Florida in March where the grand prize winner, first runner up and second runner up will be announced. The top cash prize is $10,000, split between the school and the teacher. First runner up gets $7,000 and the second runner up gets $5,000.
"I am totally shocked," said Charron-Shea. "I had no idea I knew I was nominated, but to come to this assembly and get this award, I am so shocked."
She credited her students for her success, and said special education has come a long way since she first started teaching. "When I started 30 years ago I was once asked to work in a bathroom, or even a closet, so today things have changed thank goodness. We are working with students and telling their stories -- I always say publicly with pride -- because these students now instead of being ashamed by a label are empowered by it."
The students have now produced two documentaries, children's books and even music. And Charron-Shea says its just the beginning.
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