Ms. Vanzant works in special needs and betters inclusivity at MHS

Exceptional learning professional Ms. Vanzant explains the Unified programs and disabilities seen in the student body

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Mason Thompson

Mrs. Vanzant’s activity in the classroom on an average school day includes writing lesson plans, teaching core academic classes, assisting electives, working with behavioral issues, and helping students work on their IEP (individualized education plan).

One billion people or 15% of the population experience some form of disability. At Mead High School, we are incredibly grateful for our special education professionals that help make education accessible for all students. Our special education department includes Ms. Anderson, Ms. Fox, Ms. Kraft, and Ms. Madden. Our special education professionals include Ms. Bradt, Mr. Early, and Ms. Vanzant as exceptional learning teachers.

Ms. Vanzant has been teaching for 22 years, eight years at Mead. She previously taught in North Carolina and Tennessee. Since Ms. Vanzant was in kindergarten, her goal was to be an elementary school teacher. Her father told her to go into the special education field because she would be “guaranteed a job”.

Without her, the Special Olympics program would not be offered at Mead. This program was founded over 50 years ago, is currently offered in SVVSD schools, and will be continuing for many years to come.

The Unified program originally stemmed from the Special Olympics in 2008. Both work to bring inclusivity to schools and encourage the student body to share experiences with students in special education services.

Without Ms. Vanzant reaching out to SVVSD about the Special Olympics, students would not have the opportunity to participate in these programs and they’d never have won The National Unified Championship.

This video shares the story of now graduated Noah Peterson and his experience with Mead’s Unified Sports program.

Mead High is working towards a supportive, diverse, and inclusive student body. This makes our school a friendly and safe space for students with special needs. Ms. Vanzant said students here are generally very accepting while in the hallways.

“When [my] students are walking through the hallways, they get told ‘hi’ and they’re called out by name and receive high fives,” she said.

From Ms. Vanzant’s experiences, students with special needs at Mead have little to no negative encounters with others.

She said she generally “[doesn’t] see… people looking weirdly at them or talking bad about them”. She continued, “When it does happen, others… will call people out on it.”

She said the only negative encounters she has come across are with the current freshman, the Class of 2025. “Most of the time they’re not coming from a place that’s as inclusive,” she said.

Having so many resources for exceptional learners is only beneficial as long as the rest of the student body creates a community for all to feel comfortable in.

“[The special education student body] needs a peer model to show them how to act just like every other teenager,” said Ms. Vanzant. Everyone is a peer role model through their actions and words.

MHS offers an elective aide option to assist students in exceptional learning classrooms. This is a great opportunity to get involved and better understand your classmates. Ms. Vanzant said this elective aide option offers “an opportunity to see… that people with disabilities are just people.”

Another program allows students with disabilities to learn life skills such as eating and ordering at a restaurant, paying at a cashier, tipping staff, grocery shopping, gift shopping and exchanges, job tours, and enjoying the natural world.

“We have to explicitly teach [these skills], and it takes a lot of opportunities and repetition [for our students to] understand… and feel confident,” explained Ms. Vanzant.

These outings demonstrate life skills that can’t always be taught in the classroom. It’s difficult to teach that what you do impacts others around you.

The special education programs and classrooms are always looking for help from the student body. If interested, students should consider joining Unified Sports or being a classroom assistant.

Ms. Vanzant also mentions there is a lot of growth that takes place in terms of expectations, routines, and behavioral issues spanning from freshman to senior year.

Some students run or refuse to do work at first, but later learn how to better manage their learning.

Ms. Vanzant said, “We see so much growth [as] the students mature.” She continued, “It’s really cool to watch them… grab onto that leadership role as they get older.”

She specifically pointed out Lindsey Zanini (‘23) and her growth throughout high school. Ms. Vanzant recalls her being extremely shy and uncomfortable with attention.

Now, she’s “independently going up to [new students],… saying hi and making people feel welcome”. “They just grow so much in four years,” said Ms. Vanzant.

She said these accomplishments are incredibly impactful in the lives of her students.

The student body should always remember to be kind, practice acceptance, and work to ensure Mead remains an inclusive environment for all students.