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Rodgers retiring as special education aide

April 09, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

andreabh@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - When the autistic child finally conversed with her grandmother, Bessye R. Rodgers received thanks.

Rodgers said she remembers the letter she got from the grandmother as a "pat on the back" - a simple gesture that made her feel appreciated for the special education work she's been doing in Washington County schools for 23 years.

"To get any kind of correspondence (like that from an autistic child) can take some doing," said Rodgers, 63, of Marlowe, W.Va. "It took a lot of repetitive work. You could see that child blossoming all the time."

A special education aide, Rodgers helped teacher Rose Jacobus launch the special education program at Funkstown Elementary School in 1984. After working with two special education teachers, seven principals and countless students during her 18-year career in Funkstown, Rodgers will retire in July.

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She has seen the special education program undergo major changes - including mainstreaming - during her career, which began at Marshall Street School in Hagerstown and included a three-year stint at Maugansville Elementary School.

"They're not putting all the children into one category anymore," Rodgers said. "And I think there is more acceptance now."

She has been special education teacher Judy Nelson's "right hand" for five years, serving as an aide to students with physical limitations, emotional troubles and learning disabilities, Nelson said.

"Bessye is there as a support for them," Nelson said. "She's a very good educator. She keeps me organized, and she basically does everything in the classroom."

Rodgers helps with classroom instruction, chaperones students during lunch and recess and helps teach them social skills. She is patient and consistent, Nelson said.

Rodgers does "whatever it takes" to make her students successful, she said.

It's her challenge to find effective methods to communicate with and help teach children who have a variety of different strengths and weaknesses, Rodgers said. "You never know what each day is going to bring," she said.

She said she offers encouragement to nourish students' self-esteem while setting consistent boundaries to improve their self-control.

"My main goal is to help all these special children become successful in their adult lives. I want them to be all they can be," Rodgers said. "That's my prayer every night - that I have contributed something to make them successful and accepted."

Rodgers is a "wonderful staff member" who will be missed, Principal Patricia Leonard said.

"Bessye is a delight to work with," Leonard said. "She has excellent rapport with the children."

Although she's ready to retire, Rodgers said, she will miss the students and faculty at Funkstown Elementary.

"The teachers in this school have always treated me real well - like an equal. And I'll miss the kids for sure. I love my work, I really do," she said.

"But everybody reaches a point where it's time to retire. To tell you the truth, I'm tired."

Rodgers said she plans to spend some quality time with her husband - who has been retired for 15 years - and her 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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