Meeting the challenge

Barb Allard is a special education teacher for the Fort Dodge Community School District’s PRIDE program.

Allard, who has a master’s degree in behaviors from Morningside College, has been an educator for 22 years, all of them in the FDCSD.

At the district’s central administration office, Allard coordinates the Positively and Responsibly Integrating Daily Empowerment program.

“We work with those students who need a little bit of extra help with their behavioral or emotional issues,” she said. “They come here to get counseling and they also get more one-on-one help with their social skills and any of the academic areas they need.”

These students face many challenges, Allard said.

“They have not attended school regularly, and so their skills are behind. Also, socially, they have not had the opportunities some of our other students have had,” she said. “We do learning about jobs with them also, to let them know what’s out there and available for them.”

Over 22 years, Allard has seen that one-to-one instruction helps these students.

“We do eventually phase back a little bit because our goal is always to get them back to the general school setting,” she said.

Allard is particularly proud of a moment that happened while she was teaching middle school Level 3 classes. She had an autistic student who did not speak, and did not like holding hands with others. At the same time, Allard was struggling to cope with her father’s illness.

“A lot of times we hear people say these students can’t learn, they’re not going to be any better,” she said. “There was one day where we were going for a walk, and I will never forget the time. I did talk to him regardless of whether he talked back, he did communicate other ways. And I can remember that day he took my hand, and I think I shed a few tears and thought, wow, this is the moment I know every student can learn.”

Public perceptions of students with special needs are often incorrect, Allard said.

“With my students, ones with the behavioral and emotional issues, they do see some of these behaviors and perceive that to be the only side these students have,” she said. “Once you get to know these students, a lot of those behaviors are a cover for the pain and frustration they go through in their lives, just like anybody else. And they exhibit these behaviors to cover that, because it’s cooler than to show the pain.”

While there are challenges, Allard loves her job and all of her students, she said.

“Every day is a new day,” she said. “The challenges these student face come from somewhere. The challenges mean something, whether its a behavior or emotional challenge. And I thoroughly believe that they can learn to the best of their ability. I believe they can be contributing members of society. I believe in all of them.”