Agents of change

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Oakland Meadow School may have a new name and a new location, but the compassion for these special needs students remains the same.

by Melissa Booraem

Imagine wanting a glass of water, but not being able to ask for it. For many children at Oakland Meadow School, saying the words "I”m thirsty" is impossible, a reality their teachers are working to change. Aided by the skill and perseverance of these committed educators, many previously non-verbal students will end the school year being able to communicate their basic needs for the first time.

Oakland Meadow serves the special education needs of Gwinnett County Public School students. The school has earned national recognition for many of its programs and just moved to better serve the needs of its students.

finding a way to communicate

The administrative team at Oakland Meadow credits their success to teachers that never doubt their students.

"Teachers that work in the field of severe disabilities are very compassionate individuals; however, they have to be able to be compassionate and determined at the same time," says Carol Quinn, principal. She requires that the teachers at the school all have high expectations for their students to perform at their highest level.

"We are firm in our belief that we are not babysitters, but we are change agents. We are believers in our students” capabilities. It is up to us to find a way to help our students be able to show us what they can do," Quinn adds.

Mary Kay Potlock, a special education teacher at the school, is an example of one of the many teachers who has what it takes. She is drawn to this profession because it”s so easy for people from the outside to see what these students can”t do, while she enjoys finding out what they can do.

"It”s amazing to watch these students persevere. They inspire me. I can”t imagine doing anything else," says Potlock. "Most of my students are non-verbal, so just being able to help them to communicate basic needs and wants is so rewarding." Potlock helps the children learn to communicate with a special device.

Jean Benedikt”s son, Ryan, has attended the school for the past two years. "The school has been a huge plus for our family," she says. "We don”t know what we would do without it."

Benedikt”s son is in a class to help with his communication skills. "Ryan is non-verbal, and he has made amazing progress at the school. He is much happier now that he has a way to communicate with us." She says Ryan has made many friends at the school, and it helps being around children with a similar life experience.

"We are excited about the new school. It”s awesome for the kids," Benedikt says.

making the move

Even though the community will find the trademark Oakland spirit at the new location, a name change was used to help mark the move.

Quinn says, "Our committee wanted to keep the Oakland part, but add something so people would know we moved." Hence, the new name Oakland Meadow School.

The old location, adjacent to Benefield Elementary, will be used by Benefield for one year and then will become part of the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. The new Oakland Meadow School is attached to Margaret Winn Holt Elementary School on Old Snellville Road in Lawrenceville.

"Everyone is totally excited about the new facility," Quinn says. "We outgrew the old space. The new school has everything we need."