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I was lucky enough to meet DeVante—a shy, reserved student with autism spectrum disorder—during my first year as an assistant teacher at Kennedy Krieger High School. During my first week, DeVante approached me with his head down and in a soft voice, he asked me to sign his “autograph book. ”Timidly, DeVante explained that signing the book authorized him to share drawings with that person throughout the school year. I was eager to get to know all of the students, so of course I said yes! This marked the beginning of learning exactly who DeVante is and who he wants to be.
DeVante started breaking out of his shell and gaining more confidence through his unique way of sending drawings to teachers. I was immediately impressed by his willingness to try something unconventional. Through his drawings, I also noticed DeVante’s methodical nature, which helped him to follow through with every task.
DeVante came a long way in a few short years. In the school’s student-run businesses, DeVante initially chose tasks with few interactions with his co-workers and customers. Over time, I noticed that DeVante would naturally step in to help customers or struggling co-workers.
Soon, DeVante became our student manager, and learned to defuse multiple situations. One day, a student was nervous about being a cashier in the school store for the first time. DeVante immediately stepped in and calmly explained, “I used to get upset every time I had to do something new too, but look at me now. Now I can change positions whenever I am needed, and soon you will be able to do that too. How about I switch with you?” I was in awe of how he knew exactly what to say. Students always responded well to DeVante, so much so that they began asking DeVante for his autograph.
My proudest moment came when DeVante asked if he could meet with me and his other teachers to discuss his plans after graduation. DeVante came prepared with notes and questions so he could make a detailed plan for after graduation. We work on this with all of our students, but I had never seen a student take the initiative and begin to map out a plan on their own. This is why I know DeVante has a bright future ahead of him.
Part of being a teacher is to help students you’ve come to know well graduate and move on. Each year you send one group off, hoping you’ve given them the tools to succeed in the working world. And then you welcome in a new group. The greatest gift and the greatest sadness is watching our students move on each year. Watching DeVante grow into the person he is today has truly inspired me and continues to motivate me in my job every day.
Katie Cascio (formerly Katie Bates) is a special education teacher at Kennedy Krieger High School. DeVante graduated and plans to attend Prince George’s Community College.