The Huntington School District’s Special Education PTA is indefatigable in advocating for the student services and programs it holds dear. SEPTA also takes thoroughly enjoys honoring those administrators, teachers and teacher aides who have made notable contributions to the lives of the young people they work with.
Huntington SEPTA established the Distinguished Service Award to honor those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to help students with special needs reach their full potential.
The organization presented to special education coordinator Kathleen McCourt, J. Taylor Finley Middle School special education teacher Marybeth Stahl and Huntington High School teacher aide Paula Blackwell with its coveted 2018 awards.
SEPTA actively solicits nominations for the awards and after they are received, a multi-member committee review essays and other materials that document how the individuals facilitate inclusion, interact with students, make a difference in the youngsters’ lives and share their special qualities with parents and other staff members.
SEPTA presented the awards during the Huntington PTA Council’s annual luncheon last week. The affair was attended by PTA leaders from across the district, building principals, district executives and trustees.
“Katie McCourt makes a difference in hundreds of kid’s lives every day,” SEPTA co-President Tonya Guandique told the luncheon crowd. “She wears many hats in the district and is involved with students, parents, coordinating teachers, aides, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, BOCES, out of district placement, Committee on Special Education meetings and guidance counselors.”
Ms. McCourt expertly juggles her many responsibilities throughout the day, always trying to stay two steps ahead of it all. “Katie is an advocate for our children and her passion shows,” Mrs. Guandique said. “She is all about inclusiveness and she helps our children have a chance to be involved in the school. We are so blessed to have someone who helps promote inclusiveness.”
A 16-year district faculty member, Marybeth Stahl was nominated for the award by colleagues Mary DiBenedetto, Kathryn Costa and Elizabeth Grobe, who raved about her in a two page testimonial about her impressive efforts on behalf of her students.
“An outstanding initiative that Marybeth started this year was our ‘positive peer message’ program at Finley,” according to the nomination. “She had read about a middle school in the Midwest where teachers hung inspirational sayings around the school to inspire their students. Marybeth took it upon herself to develop a grant request and get teachers to help with displaying these sayings, which include ‘Never Give Up,’ ‘It’s a Great Day to Have a Great Day’ and ‘Believe in Yourself’ all around the building. She never stops inspiring each and every one of us.”
Paula Blackwell comes to work ready to give students everything she has. “She says every day is a blessing and she learns something new from our children each day,” wrote parent Julie Porzio in a nomination letter. “If she sees something that is not benefitting our children she will ask for advice and figure out a way to make the situation better. She understands how difficult it is to be a teenager in high school, but to have special needs makes it more challenging. Mrs. Blackwell works hard to make it a safe and happy place to go every day.”
The three Distinguished Service Award recipients were each presented with a handsome plaque by SEPTA officials.