LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Patty Harrison

Position: Fifth and Sixth Grade Special Education Teacher
School: Blanchard Memorial School
School District: Acton-Boxborough Regional School District
City, State: Boxboro, MA

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Patty Harrison was nominated by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

Ms. Harrison has been changing lives at Blanchard Memorial School since 2001. She is a special educator working with students who need extra support beyond the standard education classroom.

Special educators bring tenacity to their teaching and learning. They have to understand child and adolescent development and adapt to meet the needs of a diverse array of learner. At the same time, they must establish enough trust to engage their students in areas where they often struggle. All of this with ever-increasing high-stakes assessments and limited funding.

"Patty has worked hard to master the subject matter of multiple grades, advocate for the needs of her students and families, and provide constant and consistent communication," the nominator said. "Blanchard's STARR Values of Support, Teamwork, Attitude, Responsibility and Respect shine through in her work each day." 

Ms. Harrison is all-in. She supports staff with curriculum needs and is a mentor for her colleagues. Ms. Harrison has led new special educators in her building for many years. She supports students both in class and during extracurricular activities, including the annual musical and outdoor learning experiences. She supports families and provides her students with special opportunities such as a three day field trip for fifth graders to Cape Cod.

Ms. Harrison has supported her school's culture by actively taking roles in multiple events, including the ABRHS graduating seniors party, countless staff interviews, the faculty Sunshine Fund, and safety care training. She also takes a hands-on role in helping sixth grade students prepare inventions for their prototype projects while developing their ideas for Stand Up projects, where students advocate for a particular local or global issue.

"It is her work with students that I want to focus on," the nominator said. "Patty has helped students acknowledge their potential by encouraging a growth mindset. Three students come to mind when I think of Patty. In all three instances, she provided a perspective to those students that enabled something within them to shine through."

The first student was a struggling reader. She lacked self-confidence and had a poor self-image, disinterest in school, and inability to self-advocate. Through her work with this student, Ms. Harrison was able to help her realize her true potential and end her last year in elementary school on a positive and successful note. 

During a heavy snowfall last winter, the nominator trekked out beyond the school fence and into the heavily wooded area behind the school to find Ms. Harrison supporting a physically disabled student who was on snowshoes. She was covered from head-to-toe in snow and smiles as she physically supported each and every step her student took with his classmates.

Finally, staff have spent the 2017-18 school year discussing how to increase their communication with students and families at home. Ms. Harrison has been working for two years with a young man who has had difficulty negotiating the social aspects of school. She coordinated an effort to have regular communication with the family in order to instill a better sense of connectedness and community. This has really helped the student become more focused, develop the confidence to independently ask for support, and adopt better behaviors.

"Our theme this year is rowing the boat together. We face each day with our backs to the future, never knowing the new challenges and success that will be there to greet us. We only have the past and present to guide us...but with each other, we can make the best of the present by working together as a team to steer beyond the difficult times and take pleasure in the breakthroughs," the nominator said. "I have appreciated the way that this unsung hero has faced each day...with humility, patience and tenacity."