LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Srinivas Pannela

Position: Exceptional Children's Teacher
School: Northwest Collegiate and Technical Academy
School District: Halifax County Schools
City, State: Littleton, NC

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Srinivas Pannela was nominated by Kimberly Worley, a parent of a student.

"I am nominating Srinivas Pannela for his commitment to individualizing instruction to serve all students with care and inclusivity," explains Worley. "Srinivas currently works with high school students to empower them to take charge of their future through creative education and personalized engagement."

Mr. Pannela's students' intellectual abilities vary from mild to severe autism and mild to profound intellectual delays. Students in his class engage in positive, productive learning in an open environment, which is key to their academic, emotional, and social success in school. He uses differential teaching strategies to utilize each student's strengths and knowledge. Most of his students come from a low socioeconomic community with 100% free lunch. As a teacher in a low-income/high-poverty school district, his students face several challenges in and out of the classroom. Despite their many challenges, he likes to keep things simple and provide his students with creative and meaningful learning experiences.

At the beginning of the school year, he discovers the interests, talents, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and learning styles of each student to find creative ways to adapt his lessons to each student's interests. His methods strengthen students' intrinsic motivation and create a productive and positive learning environment. The 2020 global pandemic created significant challenges for the special education community. Mr. Pannela rose to the challenge by creating educational resources and guidance to help parents manage their child's unique learning challenges. He also connected with each student's parents daily to ensure they had the emotional support, tools, and resources to be successful.

Mr. Pannela saw the sparkle in the eyes of Autistic children when he brought new innovative 21st-century technology to the classroom to engage them in reading, writing, and math. They had no idea they were learning, having fun, and creating projects simultaneously (Ex-Cell project, Drone project). He uses several online websites for his classroom. He uses low-tech and high technology daily. He firmly believes in using differential teaching strategies to provide an opportunity to utilize students' strengths and knowledge by using Big macs, switches boards, touch screen computers, and Dynovax. He can communicate with the parents online through Apps, Zoom, Class Dojo, and class tag. It is beneficial to the parents to use Zoom and Google Meet for virtual instruction during these difficult times with Covid-19.

Mr. Pannela's commitment to his students doesn't go unrecognized. Parents, colleagues, and community leaders consistently comment on his ability to help every student grow and thrive in and out of the classroom (i.e., proactive Behavior, increasing benchmark and test scores, reducing dropout rates, and raising graduation rates).

Mr. Pannela is an incredibly passionate, kind individual whose impact on his students' lives extends far beyond the classroom. From helping students win ribbons and trophies at the Special Olympics to just calling parents to let them know their child has had a rough day, his students not only grow – they thrive.

He serves voluntarily as communication chair of the North Carolina Council for Exceptional Children and NC- DADD. He works as a facilitator/co-host, monitors the technology, and troubleshoots tech issues during conferences. 

Mr. Pannela serves as a mentor to help the beginning and peer teachers with supervising and planning duties/responsibilities. He also helps with instructional activities for paraprofessionals in the classroom and community settings. Mr. Pannela serves in various roles outside the classroom, including school improvement team member, District Special Olympics committee member, District Autism parent-teacher association active member, District MTSS, PBIS chairperson, and EC Dept. IEP chairperson. He has served as head coach of the Special Olympics at the local and state levels since 2013.

Mr. Pannela conducts and participates in several disability awareness programs every year in the school district. The programs have been an enormous success. Various cultural activities are conducted as part of the programs, such as marching band, face painting, drawing, sports, singing, and an Autism poster-making contest. He also organized an Autism carnival, Exceptional Children Week, Career Week, and Down syndrome awareness programs.

Mr. Pannela's teaching career has seen various accomplishments and recognitions from his parents and administrators at the local, state, and national levels. These include the following awards/honors:

  • Teacher of the year
  • The State Educator Excellence Award from NCDPI (Exceptional Children Division)
  • Honored Educator Scholar from NCCAT (North Carolina Center for Advanced Teaching)
  • A High Flyer Trophy from the superintendent of Halifax County Schools
  • The Exceptional Children Teaching Excellence Award from the NC Council for Exceptional Children Division 
  • The Outstanding Special Education Teacher Award by the National Association of Special Education Teachers
  • NCCEC Mini-grant for classroom project winner - by North Carolina Council for Exceptional Children Chapter. 
  • DADD National Teacher of the Year 2021 by the Division of Autism and developmental disabilities. 
  • CEC National Teacher of the Year 2021 by Council for Exceptional Children.

Additionally, an article called the Kind Heart Award was published in the local newspaper in his honor, and an article about tips for parents during coronavirus was published in the Daily Herald.

Finally, Mr. Pannela goes above and beyond the call of duty/responsibilities. He arrives early and works late; he constantly looks for new and innovative ideas to help the students learn. He takes extra time and effort to reach students and thrive on their learning capacity. He motivates them to reach higher levels. He will spend his own money to acquire resources and material to teach as he believes that each student can learn and is capable of achieving high standards. Mr. Pannela is dedicated and committed to classroom excellence, and he always seeks ways to serve his students with limited resources.

"We are so honored to nominate Mr. Pannela and could not think of anyone more deserving of the honor of Life Changer of the Year," said Worley.