2016-2017 Teacher of the Year Nominee: Karla Keese of Elliot Institute!

by Jessica on May 27, 2017

Christine Moreno nominated Karla Keese of Elliot Institute

Why does Karla Keese deserve recognition as “Teacher of the Year”?

To be honest, she deserves this award every year. She is my daughter, Heather’s, teacher in a special needs program at the Elliot Institute.

The Elliot Institute specializes in educating low functioning children with compromised cognitive abilities. Many of the students, including Heather, are autistic and non-verbal. Although, labels like autism can be painted with a broad stroke, each child is unique. Their ability to grasp concepts is limited individually, moving each one forward incrementally. These special children find language confusing and cannot express themselves. They often resort to screaming and tantruming out of pure frustration. Ms. Keese uses pictures, sign language, speech therapy techniques, iPads, tablets, gestures, visual aids, music; in short, every imaginable avenue to aid communication is employed. It is like a daily miracle because she does reach them, and those days add up. The children gain life skills, for example the ability to recognize icons for safely crossing the street. Perhaps, you are thinking, “so what”? It is so insignificant, a typical child could learn that skill in an hour, maybe less, while Heather and her classmates may need months or a year. Nevertheless, it could still save their life.

I shall digress with some background information about Heather. She was a foster child whom I adopted. However, I did not have custody until Heather was five, she is twenty-one now and in her last year of school with L.A. Unified. Karla has been her teacher for a dozen years. Heather’s first five years of life were torturous. Her biological mother never spoke to her, she was tied up in a crib without freedom of movement, and she was given only formula for nourishment causing a severe eating disorder. Consequently, Heather was a tortured soul capable of screaming for hours on end. Today, she is beautiful and mostly calm, although still without functioning use of language and is still quite limited in ability. However, she communicates to get her needs met, loves school, listens intently to stories that are read to her, can type her name on a keypad and grasps many small concepts. This progress is tremendous and Karla Keese deserves credit for enveloping Heather with an immense spirit of gentle determination, patience, and kindness, day after day. Of course, Heather is only one student in the class. Many children have benefited from Karla’s gentle but determined pedagogical expertise.

Please recognize Karla Keese for the Vroman’s Teacher of the Year award.

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