Jillian Nelson Inspires Success in Special Education

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Pictured: Ripple Effect Teacher Award winner Jillian Nelson with students at Sarasota Middle School. Photo courtesy of Barancik Foundation.

Jillian Nelson, an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Resource Teacher at Sarasota Middle School, has been honored with the prestigious Barancik Foundation Ripple Effect Teacher Award. This award, designed to recognize exceptional and dedicated teachers in Sarasota County, is a testament to Nelson’s profound impact on her students and her unwavering commitment to special education.

Nelson's journey into teaching began with a unique experience that combined her love for horses and a desire to make a difference. She spent her life showing American Quarter Horses. She participated in a program where she and her miniature horse visited Nokomis Elementary School to teach students with autism how to groom and lead horses. This interaction ignited her passion for teaching, particularly in the realm of special education.

As an ESE Resource Teacher, Nelson helps students with learning disabilities, providing crucial support to ensure their success in general education settings. She explains, "I push into classes and also teach my own English classes, giving students with learning disabilities the support they need to be successful." Her dedication to her students, many of whom have conditions like autism and ADHD, is evident in her approach to teaching.

Nelson's impact extends beyond academic support. She emphasizes the importance of building personal relationships with her students. "Get to know your kiddos," she advises new teachers. She believes that students are more likely to thrive when they feel understood and supported on a personal level. This philosophy has led to numerous success stories, including a particularly memorable student who, despite initial resistance and frustration, made significant academic gains under Nelson's guidance. "She ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug, saying, 'This is because of you, Miss Nelson.' But I told her, 'No, this is because of you. You put in the hard work.'"

Nelson's dedication was recognized with the Ripple Effect Teacher Award, which she attributes to her consistent efforts and the strong working relationships she has developed with her colleagues. One teacher, in particular, with whom she has taught for many years, has helped create an environment where their students excel in state exams. "We instill a confidence in them that they will do fine as long as they use the skills we’ve taught them," Nelson says. Her advice to other educators is to meet students where they are and to be flexible in their teaching methods. For example, she suggests offering alternative assignments, such as creating a PowerPoint or a comic strip instead of a traditional essay, to cater to students' individual strengths and interests. This approach not only meets educational standards but also engages students in a way that feels more accessible and enjoyable.

Jillian Nelson’s work at Sarasota Middle School is a shining example of the positive impact that dedicated and innovative teaching can have on students' lives. Her ability to connect with her students, coupled with her creative teaching methods, ensures that each child feels valued and capable of achieving their best. The Ripple Effect Teacher Award is a well-deserved recognition of her tireless efforts and the profound influence she has on her students and the broader school community.

Pictured: Ripple Effect Teacher Award winner Jillian Nelson with students at Sarasota Middle School. Photo courtesy of Barancik Foundation.

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