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Education student stays on path of lifelong passion

May 04, 2010

Before she was 10, Courtney Cross knew she loved helping children with disabilities. As she completes student teaching to earn her Arizona State University bachelor’s degree in special education, Cross is prepared to launch a career that will enable her to do what she loves on a daily basis.

The Glendale, Ariz., native says she has no trouble relating to kids with special needs.

"I struggled in school myself and have always wanted to help others who struggle," Cross said. "When I was very young, probably first grade, I was in a summer program and volunteered to work with special needs kids who were in the program, even though I was only 6 or 7."

Later, as a student at Cactus High School and Junior ROTC member, she served as a volunteer for Special Olympics.

Cross has spent the spring semester student teaching in a life-skills program at Mountain Pointe High School in Tempe. She has done so while working 25 to 30 hours a week to finance her living expenses. Cross also made use of grants and loans to put herself through college.

"It is all worth it when I see the kids achieve goals, gain confidence, and make progress in the classroom and in their relationships with their peers," Cross said.

“Courtney has done a fabulous job of making simple educational activities fun and inclusive for her students, many of whom have severe disabilities," said Linda Levitt, who has served this semester as Cross’ field experience supervisor for ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL).

"Each of Courtney’s lessons is a hands-on lesson and well-planned out," Levitt said. "They are real-life lessons on important topics to help these students succeed in life, and all of the learners feel their input is valued because of the way she structures her teaching. Courtney is funny and supportive, and she treats her students with the utmost respect and professionalism. It is an experience to see her in action."

There’s no doubting Cross’ dedication to her responsibilities as a student teacher, Levitt said. "Courtney only missed two days all semester while having chronic tonsillitis and helping her family after her father suffered a massive heart attack. Along the way, she adopted a stray dog and rescued her 4-year-old sister when she fell into a swimming pool."

Cross also was thrust into a role of greater responsibility than the typical student teacher. Her mentor teacher gave birth during the semester, and Cross took over the class with assistance from a substitute teacher and under the supervision of another supporting mentor.

"The best moment in my student teaching was when a non-verbal student who hadn’t spoken during the entire semester suddenly yelled out my name and just started laughing," Cross said. "Later she spoke again, saying, 'Ms. Cross, you are making a mess.' Incidents like these make you realize why you wake up in the morning and want to be a teacher."

Cross says her studies through CTEL helped prepare her for success as a teacher.

“What I learned about behavior management really got me off to a good start when I entered the classroom. My student teaching experience has been outstanding, and CTEL really worked with me to get me placed at Mountain Pointe, where I had interned and really wanted to do my student teaching," she said.

Her immediate goal is to land a special education teaching job in the Valley and to begin working on a master’s degree through ASU.

"I’m also open to opportunities to teach abroad, and with my ROTC background, I will always keep an interest in the military," she said.

Whichever school hires Cross will be lucky to have her, Levitt said.

"Not everyone gets to have a job in which they are validated, happy and successful. Courtney has found that in the field of special education. She simply says, 'I love those kids.'"