Hilburn special education teacher wins regional award for connections with parents and students

Hilburn Academy special education teacher Amanda Hummel was honored on April 11 with a Lara Jane Parker Excellence Award from the New Voices Foundation, an organization that advocates students with severe communication and physical challenges.

Hummel, who has been teaching for 10 years, works with 3-, 4- and 5-year-old students with significant physical and cognitive disabilities at one of about 60 WCPSS programs for pre-school students with disabilities.

Six different people nominated Hummel, including her principal, colleagues and a parent. She received the recognition at a reception at the William C. and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education at UNC. Hummel was one of four special education teachers from the Triangle that the organization honored.

“I grew up as a child with a learning disability. School was challenging,” Hummel said. Having experienced her own struggles in school, Hummel said she developed a passion for helping children reach their potential in school. She works with students to learn what motivates them, and helps use that to reach her students, she said.

Her students’ abilities vary. Some are verbal and others use other different communication systems to express their wants and needs to teachers and other team members.

“Her students’ needs have become more complex every year, and she has consistently adapted her instruction to meet those needs,” said Kristin Krupa Burnette, a fellow special education teacher at Hilburn. “Amanda’s dedication to teaching is a shining example of how our students can have a voice if only they have the right tools.”

Hummel also partners with parents to learn how she can best help each student, said parent Amber Evans. Hummel’s advocacy for her three-year-old son and his development has “enabled him not only to feel a sense of belonging at Hilburn, but has also allowed him to grow,” Evans said.

Meeting Hummel and hearing her speak about her students moved Missy Lohr, the mother of Lara Jane Parker, for whom the awards were named.

“It just made my heart sing to hear her,” Lohr said. “She’s so genuine and invested in her classroom and her children.”

Parker was born with cerebral palsy, unable to speaker or walk, or use her hands, her mother said. Through dedicated work with her teachers, Lara was able to use technology to communicate and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and served on a prominent committee advocating for students with developmental disabilities. Lara passed away 11 years ago at age 31.

It was teachers like Hummel who worked hard to develop tools that allowed her to communicate.

“It was the teachers in Lara’s life that could recognize that there were ways to be creative and unlock what was beneath that uncooperative body and allowed her to communicate,” Lohr said.

Hummel says she is honored to have received the award, but that it’s an honor for her entire team of teachers, teaching assistants, therapists and other staff members.

“My classroom doesn’t work just because I teach,” she said. “My classroom works because we all teach.”

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