By: Raina Ram
Glenelg’s Special Education department has long been a stalwart as an academic support system; it has been, and continues to be, a cornerstone of compassion and resilience, and offers its students a life-changing impact.
The department has long catered to diverse academic needs, ensuring students on both diploma and certificate tracks receive necessary support. By tailoring instruction and accommodations to the unique needs of each student, staff members don't just facilitate academic success, they empower individuals to navigate life with confidence and independence.
Led by its instructional team leader of 29 years, Jeremy Snyder has come to exemplify the profound impact his department has made.
“Special education staff that I have worked with over the years have certainly influenced and impacted students and this department,” Snyder said. “I have worked with staff that are sensitive, empathic, dedicated, supportive, team players, and most of all care about the students they work with.”
The commitment of the department extends far beyond the classroom. The time and effort invested by the staff reflect a deep understanding of the challenges students face. Their dedication is not confined to textbooks; rather, it extends to building meaningful relationships that create a supportive environment to aid students in their post-graduation lives.
"We hope to give our students strategies and skills to be independent when they leave high school," Snyder said, emphasizing the department's focus on fostering independence through specialized instruction and tailored accommodations. “The goal is to enable students to experience success both academically and in their personal lives.”
For some, like special education teacher David Chalecki, the success of his students is due in large part to services he received while he was in high school.
“My biggest motivation stems from my own personal involvement in special education as a student,” Chalecki said. “Without those services, who I am today would look a lot different.”
Chalecki said he treats each one of his students with the same compassion shown to him.
“Prior to receiving special education services, I hated school and struggled immensely,” he added. “It wasn't until after I received supports that I saw the benefits of education and was able to actually have a lot of success. By the time I finished high school, I received the district award/scholarship for most improved student. This is what stays in the back of my mind when I work with all students. There is always an ability there for a student to learn and I always try to make it clear that the support is there when they are willing to take that next step.”
While the department’s aim is to certainly support its students, Snyder and other staff members say it’s the support they provide to one another that also has an impact. Describing the department as a “special place,” Snyder said he appreciates the hard work and dedication of the staff, acknowledging their unwavering commitment.
“I am very proud of the department’s evolution since my time here,” Snyder said. “Students have more opportunities to get additional support through technology and visuals. And staff are more educated than ever before on how to support students with disabilities. It’s a great department.”
One of those staff members is Katherine Grebe, who also recognizes what makes the department so special.
“It is a unique department because of the number of students we support and the fact that we support students in a wide variety of content areas,” Grebe said. “Due to the nature of special education supports, we have to be flexible on a day-to-day basis and support each other as we support our students. Because we communicate so frequently with each other, we have developed close relationships and trust with each other, which creates a trusting and supportive culture.”
Grebe also praised the influence of the program’s connection with the greater school community.
“The department tries to promote awareness of disabilities during inclusive education week,” Grebe said. “Staff wear stickers with quotes promoting awareness and they can choose to discuss various disabilities with their classes. We also create a sense of community through Mug-N-Muffin, a breakfast program run by special education students.”
In addition, students are also able to participate in the Allied Sports program and Glenelg Broadway Connection, which help foster inclusivity and break down societal barriers.
Behind it all, it has been Snyder’s leadership over the past three decades that, as Chalecki said, “sets the tone for the entire department.”
“He is trusted, open, and honest,” Chalecki added. “There is not a single member of the department who attempts to move forward with any situation without informing/seeking his opinion first. This trust allows him to always be informed and puts him in a constant position to be able to support the department and students. He is always pushing out reminders/information making sure we as a department are in the know. His leadership makes it easy for team members to always step in and support each other.”
Still, Snyder is the type of leader who would praise his team and their accomplishments before his own.
“I am very appreciative of the team members in this department,” he said. “I know how much time and effort it takes to not only balance life, but to be productive at your job consistently. The people in this department really do care about students and the impact they have on them.”