LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Nicole Bracken

Position: School Based Technology Specialist
School: Key Center School
School District: Fairfax County Public Schools
City, State: Springfield, VA

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Nicole Bracken was nominated by an anonymous colleague.

Mrs. Bracken is a career changer who has become a LifeChanger in the field of special education by supporting students with significant cognitive, behavioral and motor delays. She left the business world and joined the field of education, where she has had a profound impact on students. Mrs. Bracken supports the learning needs of staff, students, family members and colleagues, and she consistently exhibits what it means to be a LifeChanger.

She helps school staff build the students' skills while at school and in her efforts to support the students in their home. She provides wisdom and support for anything technical in her school, and offers critical training so stakeholders can handle important applications and technology.

Her very unique and exceptional contribution to FCPS is that she helps create a bridge from what students cannot do, to what they can do. Her school has students who have significant expressive language limitations, so she works with school teams to help these students to find a voice.

"The population we serve is a low incidence population, one where the numbers of students overall in our district are small, yet the needs of these students is tremendously large. A very large number of our students cannot express themselves clearly, yet they do have expressive skills which may be considered ‘trapped inside’ them," the nominator said. "This target group does not have a large advocacy group, yet Mrs. Bracken helps the school team seek ways to improve student language. This can be done with a variety of technologies and consistent programming."

In addition to school related events, Mrs. Bracken supports the fun events around campus. She runs the Walk N Roll community event, held every year to honor a former principal. She helped lead the committee for years, facilitating discussions around all events and even working with a local running group to sponsor the running portion of a 5k event and fun runs. This was an enormous undertaking, and she kept the focus of events for the best interest of the student community and their family members. Mrs. Bracken took on a leadership role, organizing a staff running group for ARC, which holds an annual race at a nearby park to fundraise to support sutdent families.

"Mrs. Bracken helped encourage others to run/walk or support the team in whatever way. Funds in excess of $1000 were raised for the team donation to the ARC organization to assist a multitude of families in our large school district," the nominator said. "Mrs. Bracken has also spoken to another fundraising entity with the goal of identifying additional funds for the school to offer sensory related experiences for our students."

She starts the day with a positive and upbeat attitude. She exudes this energy over the highs and lows of the school calendar year, giving her students the positive relationships they need to trust their supportive staff members. Her upbeat demeanor also positively lifts morale for school staff. Frequently, she is one of the first to greet the bus staff and the students as they arrive to school and disembark the school bus. Her positive greeting sets the tone for a great start to the day.

Mrs. Bracken offers her amazing leadership in her school and community. She supports the work of all staff, which helps create a well-rounded team to support the learning needs of students. She ensures that all staff, especially teachers, have what they need in terms of materials and curricular supports. Mrs. Bracken will download, upload, insert, update and ensure all products work for teachers upon request. She strives to take care of every detail, so all staff - and all students, by extension - will be successful. Staff approach her at any time when they are in need, and she supports the substitutes who frequently need a crutch to get started with their school day.

"She has mentored other staff in a similar role, especially those in similar settings to ours. She impacts our PTA Executive Board by supporting all the PTA sponsored events, frequently taking notes as secretary and doing things individually on her own time to support various events," the nominator said.

The leadership Mrs. Bracken provides extends well beyond her role as technology specialist. She is an excellent speaker, as she discusses the use of technology during team meetings and describes how they can improve instruction and student learning. She pulls teachers into conversations so they can build confidence and engage in the educational community.

Mrs. Bracken maintains confidentiality and supports all staff whenever she can. She assists the administrative team during weekly team meetings, participating and offering feedback on what her school community’s needs are and what adjustments may be required or suggested based on the ever changing school climate. She has insight into the tempo of the school, therefore offering a voice for staff to assist them in teaching all students.

Mrs. Bracken demonstrates commitment to professionalism, and her passion of helping students helps her excel. She has received recognition for her extraordinary efforts within the district. She was named a finalist for Support Employee of the Year award.

"She is committed to offering a positive, nurturing environment and offers high morals and a strong work ethic. She arrives early, plans late, assists others in presentations, delivers consistent technology support, makes times around her schedule to welcome working parents to review iPad functions and/or applications and works tirelessly to assist students, their families, and all staff members." her nominator said. "We are a diverse community of staff ranging from paraprofessionals to more educated professionals, yet Mrs. Bracken is unshakeable in delivering a consistent message that is easy for all recipients to understand and incorporate. She keeps learning fun, easy and student-centered."

She supports the use of Smart Board Technology as well as iPad interactions with software to improve student response. After seeing how students responded to such technology, she wrote a research proposal so students could be provided devices and staff could track the effectiveness. After seeing how students were responding to tablets, Mrs. Bracken spearheaded a charge to gain more tablets in her school, assisting teachers with delivering instruction and as a result, receiving responses from a broader range of students.

Just recently, she applied for a grant with a school team to gain $4000 to assist families in using technology, using them at both school and home to assist with family communication. Mrs. Bracken has helped the school acquire additional items and resources totaling at least $11,000 over just the last few years. 

Mrs. Bracken fosters cooperative relationships with colleagues and with her community. She has shown a commitment to being available and approachable to everyone. Her oral skills are ‘jargon free’ so staff can more easily comprehend the complicated topics of using the network or saving to the school server.

"She has patience like no other individual. She does not pass judgment as staff request the simplest of items, or forget to move the ‘on’ button on their laptop and need to have something right away. Mrs. Bracken shares her expertise with all families, both in parent workshops and via a group ‘camp’ we have held in the past. Mrs. Bracken even sits down with individual family members to share what our school is doing to support student learning so families could work in a similar fashion and we can all realize student progress more quickly." the nominator said.

Mrs. Bracken touches the school community in additional ways outside technology. She shows commitment to a variety of things, such as: being a ‘career learner,’ fitness for staff and group fitness classes, recognition of military veterans, fun and social activities for staff, community school-wide events, and even a commitment to ‘staying green’ and ensuring her community remain committed to a good recycling program. She supports students and classrooms during emergencies involving calls for EMS support, which require quick action. She has received medical training to assist in case of emergency and she serves on the school’s Crisis Intervention Team.

"She has the most consistently positive attitude of anyone, and she shares it without expectation of reciprocity. This positivity helps keep the school setting light and encouraging, which is critical when working with students with challenges they bring to school. She helps bring out the best in everyone," her nominator said.

Mrs. Bracken continues to be a LifeChanger. Through her skills and passion, she has helped connect a community of learners and she helps foster a growth mindset among staff. This has had an exponential impact on students with significant learning challenges and very limited communication skills. Her positive energy and the ability to always look at the bright side is an extremely beneficial characteristic given the work the staff face and the challenges her students overcome. As a result of students becoming more expressive with their communication, family communication is expanding and the overall impact of her efforts is expanding to more and more families.Witnessing this student transformation is truly amazing and rewarding to everyone.