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Indian Trail Elementary teacher praised by parent

Riley Bohling, 5, a preschool student at Indian Trail Elementary, shows off her knowledge of the days of the week to her teacher, Debora Taggio.

When you walk into Debora Taggio’s preschool classroom at Indian Trail Elementary, it is always abuzz with activity and positive energy.

During morning circle time, every child is welcomed by name and little voices say, “Good job!” whenever another child chooses his or her last name correctly and moves it from the “home” to the “school” side of the magnetic board.

During center time, the children work in small groups – some might work with an assistant teacher on a memory game, while others put the alphabet in order at the interactive Promethean Board, while still others dream up an imaginary campout, with blankets as sleeping bags and plastic hot dogs from the kitchen roasting on the “fire.”

For the past 19 years, Ms. Taggio has been the lead teacher at the Exceptional Children’s preschool within Indian Trail Elementary. The preschool is part of a Union County Public Schools program that serves children ages 3 through 5 with a range of physical, developmental or cognitive disabilities whose education is facilitated by an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

To maintain an inclusive environment, the classroom also accepts children with no IEPs, called “peer pals.” This year, Ms. Taggio said the classroom includes two peer pals and nine children with IEPs.

But no matter the classification, Ms. Taggio and her two assistant teachers, Eileen Siezega and Wendy Helms (known as Ms. Wendy), see all their young charges as having the same potential to learn. Ms. Taggio sees it as her calling to help the children become more independent and learn life skills.

When she thinks about the future, she said she is always looking at the least restrictive environment for her students with disabilities, and hopes to send as many as possible into regular classrooms after completing preschool.

“I feel that the window of opportunity is always open for them, so my mission is not to limit them,” said Ms. Taggio. “No two will learn the same way, but they will all make progress. I see each one of them as having a unique need; I do not focus on their disability.”

To that end, when Ms. Taggio gets a new student with special needs, she waits at least a week before looking at the child’s folder of assessments so she can form her own opinion about the student’s abilities.

To a parent, this kind of attitude is music to the ears. My nearly 5-year-old son has Down syndrome and has flourished in Ms. Taggio’s classroom for the past two years. It will be hard to leave our comfortable nest and fly away from all the attentive care and professional guidance from his three teachers.

When he started at the school, he had never been to a classroom before and spoke only one word at a time. Now he knows his alphabet (and much more), follows all the routines, loves his great group of friends, adores his teachers and speaks in short sentences.

I’m not the only parent who is pleased. Kerry Briones said her daughter, who is also graduating from the program, developed a great sense of self-confidence there.

“When my daughter started in Ms. Taggio's class at age 3, I worried about how she would handle the long school day,” Ms. Briones said. (The program is full day and runs from 7:30 to 1:30).

“Ms. Taggio approached her with confidence and patience from day one and has been steadfast in her approach.” Ms. Briones said. “Ms. Taggio, Ms. Siezega and Ms. Wendy have all demonstrated an amazing combination of extreme patience with my daughter while holding her to high standards and expecting the very best from her in terms of her behavior and participation in the classroom. Her time in their class has truly been an amazing gift.”

Candice C. Boatright, the principal at Indian Trail Elementary, appreciates the value of having this classroom at her school, and she encourages older students to interact with the preschoolers. Students who show good character or do good work can come and read to the preschool class as a reward. For the annual Boosterthon Fun Run fundraiser in February, each preschooler was paired with a fourth-grade “buddy” to help them run the course.

Ms. Boatright visits the classroom often and has great respect for the teachers. “The thing that I love about Mrs. Taggio is that she has these firm, clear expectations of her students,” said Ms. Boatright, “while at the same time has this gentle, nurturing heart about her. She has a good balance of both that sends the message that this is a safe place to learn and a safe place ‘to be me’!”

An outside observer, especially one with young children, might wonder how it is that Ms. Taggio, originally from Long Island, New York, has persevered in such a demanding job for nearly 20 years. To her, it’s simple.

“This is where we want to be,” Ms. Taggio said, speaking of herself and her two assistants, “working with the population of children with special needs.” Also, she said with a smile, “I love working with little ones. It keeps me young.”

One of the keys to a successful experience for any student is the dedication and collaborative ability of their teachers. On both counts, the team at Indian Trail excels. The three know how each other works and truly support each other, Ms. Taggio said. “There is no tension between us and we all have similar personalities. We don’t get frustrated, we aren’t loud.” They have worked as a team for more than five years, which has helped foster consistency.

“I believe that’s why the students in my class are able to make the progress they make,” Ms. Taggio said. “I know that when I walk out of that classroom, it will be conducted as though I’m still there.”

Parents can also attest that they care deeply. Stephanie Bohling has a daughter Riley, age 5, who is transitioning into kindergarten and says the teachers at Indian Trail will be truly missed.

“My husband and I are extremely grateful to Ms. Taggio, Ms. Siezega, and Ms. Wendy for all they have done with Riley this year,” Ms. Bohling said. “They are always nothing but loving, patient and caring with all the kids. They all look past Riley being a child with a disability, to all the abilities that she has and have never been anything but positive with her and when talking with me about her. I can only hope to be lucky enough for Riley to have a kindergarten teacher as dedicated and devoted as they are.”

One other thing that makes Ms. Taggio stand out is that she is among the roughly 3 percent of teachers in the United States to achieve National Board Certification, a rigorous standard for assessing accomplished teachers.

Research shows that students taught by board-certified teachers achieve higher gains in achievement than peers taught by non-certified teachers. The certification is self-sought and is good for 10 years. She spent months going through the process 13 years ago and recently renewed her certification, as an exceptional needs specialist for early childhood through young adulthood.

“The experience of doing it is amazing,” Ms. Taggio said, “because you don’t normally reflect on your teaching practices or your lessons; it makes you reflect.”

As a parent, knowing that your child is leaving such a special place, and such special people, certainly makes it hard to say goodbye. For the teachers it is no different. They all agree this has been a wonderful year, with a great group of children.

“You know that song, ‘The Song That Never Ends,’ ” said Ms. Taggio with a laugh, referring to a children’s melody that, if you let it, repeats in an endless, rhythmic loop. “We all wish this was The Year That Never Ends. We don’t want to let these kids go.”

--Originally posted July 24, 2013

Written by: Vicki Vila, a parent at Indian Trail Elementary
Posted: Aug 28, 2013 by Debra Bledsoe

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