By Elisa Reamer
Julie Preziosio is a special education teacher at Batavia High School. This is her first year teaching the Vocational Transitional Program (VTP) students but has also co-taught history, science, and English classes. Every day she is faced with challenges, but the happiness the students in the VTP class bring her overpowers it all, according to Preziosio. VTP provides aid for high school students who are faced with disabilities. This class helps the students feel safe, unjudged, and it makes it easier for them to transition into the real world by providing jobs for the students.
The Spectator: What is the hardest part of your job?
Preziosio: ”No two days are alike. The students’ needs are unpredictable and change frequently. The class stays the same, but we are constantly trying to adapt to the kids to meet their needs.”
Q : What is the easiest part of your job?
A: “Seeing them being so happy to be here when they walk into first block, just being with them, and seeing them so excited to start the school day. They all have smiles on their faces and are ready to start class.”
Q: What made you want to become a special ed teacher?
A: “I grew up with family members that had disabilities and needed extra assistance.”
Q: Does the amount of teachers and extra helpers in the room get overwhelming, or do they make it easier?
A: “It can be overwhelming because there are so many bodies in the room at one time doing multiple things. But without them, we’d be faced with different issues regarding the kids’ safety. I take chaos over having kids at risk. I think it is good to have three teenagers in the room to help out too because it is better for them to interact with high schoolers than adults all the time.”
Q: How has working with the VTP students impacted your life?
A: “I don’t really know how to answer this since I do not view the students any differently. I can not give a general answer that everyone is expecting me to say. They have taught me more skills since I had to learn about how to use communication devices, worked with an occupational therapist, and have had many new experiences. I have grown as a professional because of these students.”
Q: How do you personally feel the VTP program benefits those students?
A: “We all like to feel confident and good about ourselves; this program allows students to be in a typical high school, their high school, where they can learn and grow confidently. Their day not only has academic classes but includes learning lessons designed to reinforce safety behaviors that typical students master at an earlier age. Many people have a natural instinct to treat students with a disability like a small child and to lower expectations for them. In VTP, the expectations are individualized but always stretching students to new heights academically, socially, and emotionally. Students feel the challenge and the success which goes back to learning and growing proud and confident.”
Q: Do you feel the school shelters special education students? Why or why not?
A: “At times, yes. Everybody has the best of intentions, but easily fall into the trap of sped students can’t so don’t make them. But there is a growing number of students and staff that truly understand that special education students can do more if given the right tools, support, and opportunities. We all learn from our mistakes, so these students need more opportunities to make mistakes without being shunned or then sheltered so they don’t make mistakes.”
Q: What advice would you give to people who are going into the education field?
A: “Rest up! Don’t take it personally because they didn’t mean what they said during a time of frustration. Never lower your expectations; rather, increase the level of support so your students can achieve greatness. If you believe it, they will believe it, so please believe they can do anything! Don’t give up on any of them. Love them, worry about them, and enjoy each one of them. They will surprise you and make you proud. What you do makes a difference! Not everyone can do what we do. Feel blessed that you get to shape and mold the future.”