There was a boy, we’ll call him M, who arrived at Apex Middle School an angry, troubled 6th grader. His anger manifested itself in all manner of outbursts that often got him removed from the classroom.
Enter Margie Black.
“He was very bright and musically inclined, but his behaviors impeded his academic performance,” says Margie, a special education teacher who’s spent 30 of her 40-year career at Apex middle. “M, from the first day at Apex Middle, demonstrated the behaviors he displayed at the elementary school. His teachers, administrators and I met with his grandmother. This was the beginning of a relationship between M, his grandmother and me that continues to this day.”
Margie developed a plan for M, providing him the additional help and resources he would need to overcome his emotional problems and succeed.
Fast forward a few years to Margie getting an invitation to attend M’s graduation from Apex High School. “You can imagine my joy,” Margie says. “M had overcome many adversities to attain this goal. As he proudly walked across the stage I had the image of the wiry, angry 6th grader who transformed into a tall, confident young man.”
M is one of thousands who Margie has helped in ways large and small in her 40 years in special education, 30 of which have been spent at Apex Middle School.
Camille Hedrick, the principal at Apex Middle until moving over to Panther Creek to serve as principal, says Margie puts in the time and effort required to best serve each student.
“She’s very specific to the individual child,” Camille says. “And that’s not easy. She reads every single file of every single special education kid. These are complicated files, often coming from multiple states, countries, schools. She knows the background on every single special education child in our building. She really does not believe in one size fits all.”
Longtime Apex Middle School teacher Margie Black reads with sixth-grader Brady Durkin.
Margie says she’s had many of her students go off to college. She’s had a few that wound up in trouble with the law. And everything in between.
“I think the commonality is that they remember that I cared,” Margie says. “I was somebody they felt very confident that, if they needed something, they could come to Mrs. Black. My colleague, Lucy Bailey, and I like to say, ‘We’re on your shoulders, all the time, even when you leave us.’ They come back and say, ‘I heard you, I heard you.'”
Margie brings a mix of tough love and high energy to the classroom.
On a recent Monday morning, she bounded from student to student, whose needs ran the gamut from “I forgot to take this quiz” to “I can’t log into this computer” to “I just don’t feel like doing anything today.” In a matter of minutes, she had counseled and cajoled every student in the Curriculum Assistance class, setting them on a productive path.
“We celebrate success all the time,” Margie says.
“You saw [one student] who brought his glasses. We’ve been working for 20 days now; he’s brought them three times. You could see right away that was a big deal that he brought them. And we celebrated. We do measure success in minutiae sometimes. It’s not necessarily just academic success. It’s all the things the kids need to leave and be independent. We provide them with the tools to recognize their strengths. Maybe reading is really hard for them, but they have a lot of strengths they can utilize. We try to teach them how to figure it out for themselves when Mrs. Black’s not around anymore. We teach them to be self-advocates.”
Margie, of course, has seen the world of special education evolve many times over since her career began in Delaware in 1974. IEPs, for example, weren’t a thing back then, “so often times children were placed in programs without any real oversight.”
Margie has been a part of the movement to take “special education out of the basements and the boiler rooms and the little rooms to raise awareness within the school setting. Within that came all the laws to protect children, to make sure they were being identified and served appropriately.”
“People say, ‘You must have a lot of patience,'” Margie adds.
“I don’t know. I think I have a lot of tenacity. I really don’t give up.”