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Teacher of the Year provides life skills to students with disabilities

Culture

George Price has a long family history with Maiden Choice School on Shelbourne Road in Arbutus.

The lifelong Arbutus resident attended the public elementary school in the 1960s with his brother, and, after a brief stint in the business world, returned to the school in 1985 as an instructional assistant.

The school had changed since he had been a student there: Since 1981, it has only accepted students with severe physical, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.

The students at Maiden Choice range in age from 3 to 21. There are 18 teachers at the school, according to the school website, and each class usually has only six to eight students.

"It's all children with significant disabilities," said Nancy Briganti, the principal, of the student population.

Price — whose wife, Susan Price, and son, Steven Price, also work at the school — became a full-time teacher at Maiden Choice in 2000. Next month, he will be honored as Teacher of the Year by the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities for his 13 years of work as a full-time teacher at the school.

"Some of our kids are extremely physically disabled," Briganti said, referencing students who are permanently wheelchair bound or unable to feed and clothe themselves. "He [Price] celebrates with them and involves them and finds out what will get them to participate.

"They're awake, they're alert, they're laughing at him, they're following his every move to see what he's doing next," she said.

Maiden Choice School is one of three public schools in Baltimore County — Ridge Ruxton School in Towson and Battle Monument School in Dundalk are the others — for students with severe disabilities. Each school has about 100 students.

Price said those schools, and the teachers who work there, are rarely considered for public recognition.

"I think the word I used was dumbfounded," Price said of his reaction to receiving the news. "I didn't know what to say. Nobody here had ever been recognized.

"We weren't aware that there was such a thing as Special Ed Teacher of the Year," he said. "We are so often overlooked in the county."

Price will be honored with about 15 other award winners at the Commission on Disabilities' annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on Oct. 16 at the Sheraton Baltimore North hotel on Dulaney Valley Road in Towson.

"He's a phenomenal teacher," Briganti said. "He willingly takes on challenges and does fabulous work with kids and families."

Price's humble mindset inspired fellow Maiden Choice teacher, Elizabeth Kartal, to nominate him for the award.

"He's highly adaptable," Kartal said. "He can get a new child, and really get down to the root of the problems and some of the things that are really positive in their life.

"He is excellent with children with behavior [problems]," she said. "He's a big lovable guy, but he can adopt that suit of, 'We're going to follow the rules.'

"But then, at the end, you'll get that wonderful warmness of Mr. George," Kartal said. 'Even though every single day presents a new challenge."

Briganti said Price sets a great example for her staff with his dedication to his students.

"He is truly an advocate for our students and their well being in and out of school," she said.

She said Price patiently takes the time to work with each student to create the best possible learning environment for each individual, even when some of those students have little to no communication skills or severe physical disabilities

Briganti said Price deserves the Teacher of the Year award and is pleased with the recognition it will provide for not only the school, but the special needs community as well.

"It just provides validation for what we do," she said.

A lifelong passion

Price said his interest in students with disabilities began as a child, interacting with his younger brother.

"He had some learning disabilities," Price said. "Growing up with my brother, learning from my parents how to handle him and his stubborn ways helped me with initially coming here, understanding that these are somebody's kids too.

"We take for granted that, when we have normal kids, that education is important to them," Price said. "But in our building ... those years are crucial for them."

The students at Maiden Choice receive an education far beyond that of reading, writing and arithmetic. They learn a variety of basic tasks, ranging from feeding and dressing themselves to proper behavior within the community.

To prepare them for life outside the classroom, the students routinely take trips into the community to eat lunch at McDonald's or go bowling.

"It's individualized," Price said. 'We determine the adapted equipment necessary for them to move forward.

"We have to break it down into the smallest of steps," Price said. "And if it takes us six months to get through the first part of it, then it takes us six months to get through the first part of it.

He said he enjoys working with students with disabilities because of their pure desire to learn and because he can make an impact both inside and outside the classroom.

"We look at where they are and where we would like for them to be, which is as independent as possible," he said. "And whether we have them for 18 years or 18 days, we're going to make the adjustment into the adult world as smoothly as possible.

"The important part is, we're teaching them skills for life," he said.

"I think these kids are truly interested in learning," he said. "They have disabilities that hinder them in some way.

"They give us 100 percent every day," he said.

Price said he hopes his award will bring some attention to the special needs community and help break down social stigmas associated with the disabled.

"My hope is that they [school system administrators and elected officials] will come here and meet some of the kids that we work with," Price said. "We're not the [bad] behavior school or the school of misfits."

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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