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Ebbers chosen as District 518 Teacher of the Year

Special Education-Autism Spectrum Disorders teacher Amy Ebbers was chosen this week as ISD 518's Teacher of the Year. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A special education teacher who helps students with autism spectrum disorders is the 2018 ISD 518 Teacher of the Year.

Amy Ebbers was presented a plaque during a recognition program earlier this week. The Worthington native is in her 31st year with the district.

Those who work closely with her say she’s an unsung hero with a heart of gold.

“She truly cares for each and every student and teacher she works with,” said fellow teacher Erin Ahrens. “Amy developed the autism program here at District 518, and that can come along with many challenges as well as rewards. Her dedication and positive attitude continues to inspire us to become a teacher like her.”

Teacher Shannon Schmitz nominated Ebbers for the districtwide honor.

“She has been instrumental in the development of the autism program at Prairie and in the district,” Schmitz said. “She has an enormous work ethic and she has great relationships with her students, parents, her paraprofessionals and colleagues. She always has a smile on her face, and is willing to help wherever and whenever she can. Amy is the epitome of a great teacher.”

Ebbers’ interest in special education began as a student at Worthington High School, where she helped special needs students while enrolled in specialized vocational training. Later, while taking her general college coursework at then-Worthington Community College, she worked at Lakeview School, a local boarding school for disabled children.

“I decided it was a good fit,” Ebbers said.

Ultimately, she went on to St. Cloud State University, where she earned her degree in K-12 special education. Her focus has always been on elementary special ed.

In the fall of 1987, the new college grad was hired as a special education teacher at Lakeview School. Though she worked for ISD 518, she also taught students from other school districts who resided on the campus.

Back then, autism wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, Ebbers said. Her first class was comprised of six students, of which only three were autistic. The other three exhibited challenging behaviors.

In 1990, when the district integrated students from Lakeview into traditional classrooms, Ebbers was moved to Central Elementary to work with students. With the exception of a brief stint at Worthington Middle School, much of her time was logged at Central Elementary, then Prairie Elementary.

Today, Ebbers has a caseload of 12 students — at one time it numbered 26 — and works with 18 children during the school day.

“Four students are in my classroom a lot, whereas the others are integrated into the classroom,” Ebbers said, noting that she meets with some of the higher functioning autistic students just to work on social skills.

As one of the more seasoned special education-autism spectrum teachers, Ebbers has been a mentor to new teachers who also work with autistic students, as well as student teachers who have come into the district over the years.

She said her greatest joy as a teacher is seeing her students learn new skills and learn from each other. She takes pride in seeing an autistic child do the actions to a song during a school musical, or being able to sit alongside their peers in the lunchroom.

Her advice to new special education-autism spectrum disorder teachers is to “meet the students where they are and not get too concerned about (progress).

“You have to build a relationship before you can build progress — you have to have a relationship before they will do what is asked of them,” she said.

Each of Ebbers’ students is on an individual education plan, depending on the degree of their autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the students are learning social and communication skills. Some may be able to communicate with words, while others use a picture exchange communication system, where photo cards help teachers understand what the student wants to say or do.

Ebbers has five paraprofessionals who assist her with her students, and said she wouldn’t be able to accomplish all that she does without them.

In accepting the Teacher of the Year honor, she also recognized her family, administration, cooks and custodians. Above all, she thanked her students.

“I have learned the most from the experiences I have had with them,” she said.

Amy and her husband, Alan, have three daughters, three grandchildren and three more grandchildren on the way this year as each daughter is expecting.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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