An Inspiring Special Education Teacher promoted to Principal

At some point in our lives we have had someone who had the ability of making an everlasting impact. Mr. Jonathan Slaybaugh is that one pivotal person that made a difference in my life when nobody had any understanding of my unique and unusual actions and learning mode. My first day in second grade at New City Elementary School, I was introduced to my new teacher, a tall man with a moustache and a tie. This was Jon Slaybaugh’s first teaching assignment and the first self-contained class at New City Elementary with students which combine grades 2 – 4. Unlike traditional classes, special education classes encompass multi grades in one room. In fact, this was the first special education class in New City Elementary School. Being the first such class, he embarked on his teaching career with the many challenges and pressures of having this special education class. At the time, Clarkstown was just becoming acquainted with the growing needs of these students.

Unfortunately, special education students are targets of being bullied in some fashion. I spent three years learning, not only academics, but how to help other people realize that just because you are in a special class setting doesn’t make you any different than they are. Mr. Slaybaugh would always find ways to make us feel special and different in a positive way by doing a fundraiser for a children’s charity, taking us on a class outing, or doing something special for a holiday. One such project was for Halloween, he transformed our classroom into a haunted house. How important we all felt went the other students in school had their chance to visit our haunted house. His agenda was to motivate his students to learn new things. He encouraged us to write a story expressing how we feel, create a piece of art, but most importantly to make his students realize that they are an important part of society. I don’t know too many individuals who have his courage to tackle an issue or his humor to soften up life a little when things get rough. He has a special ability to engage his students, to mold them into a caring, and genuine person. This is due to the person he is and his non-judgmental and caring teaching style. Because of these skills he made it part of his everyday interactions with his students to help them to learn to overcome the many challenges and painful experiences they faced.

I remember when I had to create a project for a Science Fair. I had no idea what to do or to be honest I didn’t want to do a project. I tried everyway to get out of participating in the Science Fair, but Jon was determined to have me participate like all the other students. Together we decided that I should design a telescope, which I proudly displayed at the Science Fair.

Jon always motivated me to learn new things, write stories, create many different kinds of works of art, and have me interact with my peers socially. I always would sit at my desk in his class crinkling and drawing things on the sides of my papers not realizing my potentials when trying to listen to him teach my class a lesson plan for the day. I always loved to draw things on my notes I took and start writing a story from what I last thought about. At the end of 4th grade I knew I had to move on to a new teacher for 5th grade. I became panicky and frightened to move forward. How can anyone know me as well as Mr. Slaybaugh? But it was time to move forward to a new beginning.

Jon tutored me through Junior High School and High School to keep the motivation going. Many people didn’t understand what I was doing not even myself, but Jon kept on pushing me to be the best I can be.

When I entered second grade, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficient Disorder. In fact, I was given multi diagnoses over the years until I was in my early twenty’s when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My family, friends, and the many key people in my life were finally able to understand the odd behaviors, social isolation, and quirks that I displayed. When I told Jon that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Symdrome he understood why I would always sit at my desk and not interact with my classmates.

When I was asked to be part of a PBS documentary “This Emotional Life” in which an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome can share lives intricacies. I only wanted Jon to be part of this experience with me. I contacted Jon to tell him I was going to be a part of a PBS Special. He told me how proud he was of me and how far I have grown. Unfortunately, the producers wanted to focus on an adult living with Asperger’s and not my prior life experience.

It is with great pride and admiration that I read in the February 12 Rockland Journal News that Mr. Jon Slaybaugh was named the new Principal of Birchwood School in the Clarkstown Central School District.

It is not easy to express Mr. Slaybaugh’s commitment to his students, his genuine caring, and respect for them. Over the years he always has been there to help me capture the essence of how I have grown as a person and what I have been capable of doing in my life. It is no wonder that Mr. Slaybaugh has been elevated to this new position. He worked very hard for this moment in his life. He went unnoticed for most of his career and I want people to know how special he is. He has worked in Special Education for 25 years, and has never given up hope for any of his students. Sometimes we meet people in our life who fill us up, help make us feel good about what we can accomplish, and live beyond our dreams. I am very proud to have been one of his students.

Posting more soon,

OUT, J

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