Published On: Thu, May 18th, 2017

Maxwell’s special bond with students will be missed

COLERIDGE — A long-time Coleridge special education teacher will be retiring this spring after almost a decade of teaching at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge Public School.
Bernice Maxwell has been teaching students with special needs for 39 years, and nine of them were spent working at Coleridge Middle School. During that time, she devoted all of her energy into individually helping students learn basic life and communicative skills.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing the kids learn something new,” Maxwell said. “Sometimes we have to learn a long time to see a lot of progress or see something break through, but when something does, it’s so awesome to see.”
During her time with LCC, Maxwell has worked to incorporate technology into her classroom.
She said getting her students exposed to the rest of the student bodies is one of the most important aspects of her job.
One example of this in the classroom is the use of an iPad app called Proloqou2Go. The app allows students to tap various hand-drawn pictures of cartoons performing actions and objects. When tapped, the iPad vocalizes the words associated with the icon. With this, her nonverbal students are able to greet their fellow students as well as express their basic wants and needs.
Tim Vanderheiden, the principal of Coleridge Middle School said Maxwell’s teaching approach has allowed her students to overcome many of their disabilities.
“Mrs. Maxwell has that deep commitment to help her students. She helps students find their own voice,” Vanderheiden said. “She sees that inner person that’s hiding behind that disability.”
Even though he’s only worked with her for a year during his first year as the school’s principal, Vanderheiden said Maxwell is one of the top resource teachers he’s had the pleasure of working with during his 17-year career as an administrator. He said he often visits her classroom just so she and her students can cheer him up.
“She helps others realize there is more to a person than what is seen on the surface,” Vanderheiden said.
Even with her retirement looming near, Maxwell continues to work as hard as ever to ensure her nine students learn as much as they can during her time with them. She said she will miss working with the kids the most, since they are the ones who have taught her the most.
“I learn more from the kids, they are all so intelligent and thankful,” Maxwell said. “I’ve learned to put myself in other peoples’ shoes and appreciate every little thing around me.”
She said she’s never encountered a bad student because she doesn’t believe one exists. Her teaching philosophy asks her to explore different options as to how best to teach a student no matter the situation.
“If a kid fails, you’ve got to ask yourself what you did wrong,” Maxwell said. “I would like to see this type of learning be shared with other students.”
Maxwell’s hard work hasn’t gone unrecognized during her career. Earlier this year, the Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorder Network awarded her the organization’s Friend of Autism award. The award recognizes individuals for their contributions in educating and working with autistic students.
Maxwell said she plans on continuing her work with special needs individuals into her retirement. She plans on doing consultant work for different schools in the area and to help families help their disabled family members.
For the meantime, Maxwell is confident in the special education program she’s left behind to her colleagues and is excited to see where they take it going forward.
“We know it works,” Maxwell said. “I knew that at this time, we have great paras. The teacher who’s taking over has been working with me four years.”
The confidence in her paras has led Maxwell to believe the program she has established at Coleridge Middle School will continue to succeed and flourish during her retirement.