BY KAILENE NYE
Amie Talarico’s desire for equality in the education system pushes her forward.
She works toward that goal on a daily basis as director of special education for Lackawanna Trail School District, where she oversees all aspects of the department. This includes supervising teachers, making sure all schools maintain compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and ensuring students with disabilities have everything they need to succeed in school.
“I think when you’re in special education, that’s kind of the driving force,” said Talarico, who lives in North Scranton. “You want someone who has a disability to have an equal opportunity as the person next to them that’s not disabled. I think we have to work as educators to make sure we’re providing that.”
Before going into special education, Talarico graduated from University of Scranton with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with plans to become an elementary school teacher. Her interest in special education came when she began working in therapeutic staff support and went to an extended school-year program with a student with Down syndrome.
“I really saw the teacher working in that classroom, and I knew that I wanted to go into special education at that time,” she said.
Talarico then became a substitute teacher and went back to school at Marywood University to earn a master’s degree in special education. While she worked toward her special-education certification, she was hired as a special-education teacher at Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit. After a year there, she took a teaching job at Delaware Valley School District and remained there for six years.
She started out under the same teaching position when she came to Lackawanna Trail but went back to Marywood shortly after for her special-education and K-12 principal certifications. Talarico was promoted to her current position in 2016 and is now working toward a doctorate in special education at Slippery Rock University.
She also teaches in higher education as an adjunct professor of early childhood education at Keystone College. She works closely with faculty there to help students transition after high school and played a major part in securing a state grant from the Department of Labor in 2019. The $60,000 pre-apprenticeship PASmart grant, which was funded again this year, allows students interested in education to work in the college’s children’s center and earn credits that can be used at Keystone or transferred to other institutions.
“I’ve been proud of that,” Talarico said. “It’s just a good opportunity for juniors and seniors that want to work in early childhood education.”
On top of teaching, Talarico spent around 10 years as an active volunteer with the Junior League of Scranton, a nonprofit organization for women that teaches them about how organizations are structured and promotes volunteering. She worked with several committees during her time with the league and even served as president from 2014 to 2016. Now a sustained member, someone who is no longer active with the group but continues to work with and support it, Talarico said being with the organization has helped her professional work.
“Spending my 10 or 11 active years in the Junior League was really important for my professional development and development as a volunteer. I learned a lot about leadership with the Junior League,” she said.
One project she especially loved doing was Kids in the Kitchen, which not only exposes children to different types of food but also teaches them how to cook with them.
“I think there’s a lot more food insecurity in our area than people know about and when people are using a food bank and don’t have access to a variety of food, it’s important to teach them how to cook with it and teach their kids to try new things,” she said.
Talarico said the ongoing pandemic has brought challenges to teaching, but she is inspired by how hard teachers have worked to continue to provide for their students. The school district offers in-person classes five days a week with the option of virtual learning, which means teachers have to work with kids in the classroom and on Google Meet simultaneously.
“They’re working double every day,” she said. “They’ve taken risks by coming in every day, and they really try to make sure that every kid is safe. They’re working so hard.”
Virtual learning has been especially difficult for children with disabilities, so she made sure teachers were prepared to adapt and get creative to work with those students. One thing they did to accommodate was allow students who weren’t doing well with online learning to come into school safely, which helped provide other services for them they may not have access to at home.
“It was definitely scary because you don’t want people to get sick, but some kids could be at risk if they aren’t able to come to school, too. For example, when kids weren’t able to come to school, they didn’t have access to meals and things like that that were harder for people to get during that time,” Talarico said.
Throughout her years of education and volunteer experience, she learned that it’s hard to know exactly what challenges children may be going through, so doing whatever she can to support them and their families is crucial.
“When you really start to talk to family about what the kid is really facing at home, you can kind of dig down into that and you can find a way to support families,” she said. “I think that’s important for educators and volunteers in our area.”
Talarico said her favorite part about working with children is seeing them grow and live up to their potential.
“When you’re an administrator, you get to see some of the kids you had as a teacher get older, but as they get older the focus is really on transition and what they’re going to do after school, and I think it’s cool to come up with different ideas for students,” Talarico said. “I like when I see students that I had as a special-education teacher or even as an administrator doing things now.”
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