LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Martha Colaner

Position: Special Education Paraprofessional
School: Turpin High School
School District: Forest Hills School District
City, State: Cincinnati, OH

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Music that Describes Martha

Martha Colaner was nominated by Christine Cassedy, the parent of a student.

"My daughter has been a student in Turpin High School's Work-Study program for three years. She and her classmates are especially fond of and responsive to Martha because she makes a special effort to get to know what makes each of them tick," said Cassedy. "I remember a few years back, first thing in the morning, when Martha made Physical Education class momentous by assisting the kids in learning to square-dance and sending home photos to share. She has sent videos and photos home of special twists she has added to everyday activities, school events and holidays on many other occasions. These visual aids have been extremely helpful to my daughter. Martha reaches work with a wide range of young adults who have special needs in one classroom, she must have special skill.

One way Ms. Colaner does this is by adding to the development of her school's atmosphere as the most-positive and joyful person! She doesn't take the sense of pride in one's own accomplishments away from the students she works with- a mix of those specially-abled and their peer mentors and friends. Ms. Colaner queries the answer they're seeking to the problems they have alongside them, and she provides them with appropriate cues to find the answer themselves. That's one reason why everyone loves her. This particular discipline affects the success of the parents and other teachers working with the students outside the Work/Study classroom, as well!

After graduation, intellectually challenged students go on to become contributing members of their community in ways that those uninitiated in the challenges they face may take for granted. There are community partners in the Work/Study program who know Ms. Colaner as the inside track to working through individual snafus and hiccups that occur. A few of them are: Kroger Anderson, New England Club Senior Living, and TJMaxx Cherry Grove.

Ms. Colaner exhibits leadership every day within her school and district in many ways. For example, she organizes get-togethers for students to meet and be with peers at extracurricular events, which gives parents greater confidence in their child's growing independence as a high schooler. Parental support for inclusion increases when individuals like Ms. Colaner foster it, with no more spare time than anyone else has! And, she's a new grandmother, to boot. She shares her family's joy with people, and makes them an extension of her family, too. 

Her record of excellent performance at the professional level is seconded by Turpin High School administrators and colleagues. She knows her priorities and doesn't sweat the small stuff.

"As our school administrators will attest, Martha is a committed educator's assistant," said Cassedy. "She is a paraprofessional who has had many successful years in her work at Turpin, and someone who has definitely changed many lives for the better!"

Comments (12)

LEann Wikert Posted over a year ago

hi my name is LEANN WIKERT SEE MARtha every other monday a t bowling i have spical needs thank you very much

Lisa Byrne Posted over a year ago

I met Martha 13 yrs ago when we first move to Cincinnati and my daughter, who has Rett Syndrome, started 4th grade. Martha was so kind and caring towards her. She took a lot of time to get to know our daughter and her disorder and we greatly appreciated her commitment.

Hillary Hammond Posted over a year ago

I have known Mrs. Colaner since I was at Nagel. She helped us at Afterhours after school club at Nagel

Michelle Burkey Posted over a year ago

Although I had Martha's daughter as a student years ago, I got to know her on deeper level last year when she was the paraprofessional aide for two students in my class. These students didn't have severe needs to which she needed to attend, but Martha was always the best advocate for them. She communicated and redirected behaviors in a kind, firm, and appropriate way. In addition, she encouraged and equipped the other typical students to step in and help their special needs classmates whenever possible. She was also always a great liaison between myself, the parents, and their classroom teacher. I didn't have to go out of my way to make sure the students had their necessary materials or showed up for concerts on time. Martha was always organized enough to foresee those needs and take care of them. She is a great asset to Turpin High School and would be well-deserved to receive the Life Changer Award!

Maya Hehemann Posted over a year ago

She was the aid to to a girl in my homeroom but she spread positivity and encouragement to the entire class.

Karen Laney Posted over a year ago

Martha Colaner worked with my son Michael for four years during high school. Michael has autism and would prefer to stay on the outskirts of any classroom activities and not participate. Martha understood this and made sure Michael participated with the group and contributed so that his classmates and teachers would get to know him. Sometimes this made Michael uncomfortable but in the end he actually liked being part of the group and it drew him out of himself. Martha accepts the children in the classroom for who they are and looks beyond their disability. She speaks to them like any typical student and allows encourages them to flourish to their full potential. Her kindness and respect for them as individuals is refreshing. She rolls with it all the while pushing them. As a parent what more can you ask for from a teacher. We were blessed to have her for four years and feel Michael wouldn't have come so far without her!

Verna Donovan Posted over a year ago

I worked with Martha for 5 years as the speech language pathologist in the classroom. She is truly an amazing teacher and mentor to all of her students. The most special gift that she brings to the table is her ability to see the big picture and understand that her students have exciting lives to lead. She can take a long term goal for any student and break it down into it's component skills and start teaching them immediately! She is a perfect blend of compassion, kindness, and no- nonsense. Martha is well deserving of this award 10 times over!

Laurie Lombardo Posted over a year ago

Martha is an angel on earth. Our daughter, Jenna, is 18 and a senior in high school. She has been fortunate to have Mrs. Colaner as part of her school life off and on since first grade. In the early years, Mrs. Colaner provided a firm yet comforting presence as Jenna's paraprofessional. Her expectations for Jenna were extremely high yet attainable. Her patience level was incomparable. During grade school, Jenna sometimes liked to wander off the playground into nearby woods, despite Mrs. Colaner and others running at top speeds to stop her. I remember one time I had a call to come and pick up Jenna because she was covered in mud. I believe she was about 7 years old at the time. She had rolled around in those woods, laughing as her teachers (including Martha) hiked and tripped through branches and mud to claim her. I don't think I was able to express my sincere gratitude to Martha that day. I was so shocked when I arrived at the scene. All I could think about was "Will Jenna always be a runner? How will I handle this as Jenna gets older?" Chasing after Jenna was a task Martha performed that was way beyond the call of duty. In her shoes, I might have called the police. Not only did she forge ahead in the search, she smiled at me afterwards and said something like "This is my job." WOW. Jenna is now in high school and stopped running many years ago - in part, due to maturity. But I think Martha is a huge part of Jenna's success story today. Over the years. Martha took a personal interest in Jenna. She re-directed her energy. She learned how to recognize when Jenna needed a break to head off negative behaviors (like running away). And she has championed Jenna only when Jenna deserves it. I believe that is what has made the biggest difference. Martha understands that all students want to feel needed, have a sense of purpose and take pride in a job done well. That's life. There may be accommodations made for Jenna and some of her peers, but there are no hand-outs, no passes on what is expected at school. Martha's students understand she means business. Finally, Martha loves her job. That, in itself, makes her special. How fortunate we parents are to have known someone who takes such joy in helping others. Martha has been a teacher/paraprofessional for many years now. In her job, she does not go through the motions. Every day with her is a new adventure that she can't wait to live! Thank you, dear, dear Mrs. Colaner.

Pam Neltner Posted over a year ago

I have had the privilege of working side by side with Martha for over five years and I can honestly say that she is one of a kind. She has a witty sense of humor that makes the students (and me) laugh throughout the day, but she also knows when to be firm. Any chance Martha gets, she takes everyday problems that the students encounter and turns them into learning experiences. For example, if someone has a spill at lunch, instead of Martha taking over and cleaning it up, she teaches them how to clean up the spill using a bucket and a mop. She truly believes that her job is to get every student ready to live their life an independently as possible. She helps them to to see past their disabilities to just how bright their future can be if they focus on their strengths. In lots of small ways, Martha is a life changer!!

Sharon Colaner Posted over a year ago

Oh, how special it is to wake up to read this kind of story! Martha is a very special person and deserves recognition. Thank you Christine Cassedy for nominating my sister-in-law. Martha is a very special lifechanger!

Tim Fuller Posted over a year ago

Martha Colaner’s passion and commitment to working with developmentally challenged students is widely recognized within the Forest Hills School District family. She is constantly devising new strategies and activities that benefit her students both in and out of the classroom. As with any good teacher, Martha is both an advocate and task master. She sets high expectations for her students and holds them accountable for reaching their potential. This coupled with her tireless selfless advocacy for her students rights and inclusion makes her in my opinion a true classroom life changer.

Carole Gibson Posted over a year ago

Martha Rocks!!!!