At a time when everything from cars to soft drinks seem to be getting bigger and bigger, two teachers choose to celebrate the small stuff.
Glenda Hoth and Mindy Larouere — a mother and daughter duo who are teachers in the Special School District of St. Louis County — say the
sweet smiles and huge hugs from their students are largely what led them to earn K-12 certification from Fontbonne University’s Career Builders program.
“Every day is rewarding because my kids are able to do something they couldn’t do the day before,” Larouere, 33, says about her class at Larimore Elementary in Hazelwood, Mo., where she works with special needs students in third through fifth grade. Originally, Larouere planned to become a nurse while working as a teacher’s aid at Litzinger School in the Special School District, but found she missed her students too much.
“I realized pretty quickly that working in a hospital wasn’t for me. I wanted to go back to where little kids were excited to see me,” Larouere says. “I chose Fontbonne’s Career Builders program because I could work, go to school and student teach all at the same time.”
The Career Builders program offers teacher certification for K-12 “cross-categorical” special education, a discipline addressing a broad spectrum of special needs. The program is designed specifically for adults working in the field of special education as teacher assistants, paraprofessionals or in other support roles. It’s the only local program that is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.
According to Kathleen Schwarting, director of the Career Builders Program, these graduates fill the many vacancies left by retiring teachers, as well as help the Special School District meet the needs of a rising number of special needs students. “Another plus of the program is that it helps in teacher retention,” Schwarting says. “Since the teachers are already working in special education classrooms, there are no surprises for them upon graduation. This program is full of people who care about kids and believe they can make a difference in the lives of children with special needs.”
Helping people is nothing new for the 53-year-old Hoth. She and her husband, Tom, have been foster parents to some 25 children and have adopted two children — this, in addition to their two biological children.
“One of my children has special needs, and I think that certainly got me interested in teaching in the Special School District,” says Hoth, who is now a teacher’s assistant at Hazelwood East High School working with students with mental retardation.
For Larouere, who is married and has a six-year-old daughter, growing up with foster brothers and sisters opened her eyes to children who need extra help.
“I have always enjoyed working with the special needs population. I saw how important it was for my brother to have teachers who understood him,” she says. “My family will do whatever it takes to help a child.”
When Larouere decided to enroll at Fontbonne, she asked her mother to join the program with her. “I said ‘OK, if you do it, I’ll do it’ and we did,” says Hoth, who was a homemaker before becoming a teacher’s assistant for Christian Pre-School in north St. Louis County. “Once I got into it, I had a knack for it,” she says of working with special needs students. The mother and daughter team started school in January 2004 — Larouere graduated in May and Hoth in December 2006.
Both women enjoyed having each other for support. “It was fun — I loved it,” Hoth says. “We had one another to lean on.” Her daughter agrees, saying “It was the best. It was like going to school with my best friend.”
The program takes an average of two to three years to complete, and students know their entire course schedule before they even begin. “I liked the set schedule. It really made it easy to follow and to manage the rest of my life,” Hoth says. “And the faculty was so supportive and awesome. I’m thrilled that I did something I always wanted to do but thought I couldn’t.”
In fact, the family is so impressed with Fontbonne that Hoth’s husband is now in the OPTIONS MBA program, and Hoth plans to pursue her certification in reading here.
“Maybe they’ll name a wing after us,” jokes Larouere. For now, the best reward for both Larouere and Hoth is the opportunity to help children reach their potential — and maybe get a nice hug in the process.