Page Title
By Jonathan Gramling

    Elizabeth Reyes, who will receive her Ed.D. in educational leadership in August
from Edgewood College, is the kind of person who just exudes warmth and a
positive attitude. She is a charming person whose smile just brightens up the room.
And it is probably that warmth as much as it is her education and experience that
makes her an effective special education teacher with at Mendota Elementary
School on Madison’s north side.
      Reyes learned the importance of a positive attitude from her mother in her
native Philippines. “I learned from my late mother that your face shows how
you feel,” Reyes said. “It is transferred to the audience that you have. The
audience will get that feeling, that notion that you are happy, and it is
transferrable. It is something that people will see it through you, a certain
kind of character that I want to exude from me. I like people. I am a people
person.”
    
Mendota teacher Beth Reyes earns doctorate from
Edgewood College
      As a special education teacher, Reyes works with some very difficult cases that can challenge her positive attitude. “There are
a lot of challenges that you see from kids,” Reyes emphasized. “It’s just their way of life. It’s a normal structure of family and you will
see how they survive with the kind of family that they have and the kind of structure of family. Sometimes it is very
disheartening that you see that, but it is the reality. You see the reality from the daily life that the kids bring to school. I think the more
you understand the kids, the more you know the strategy and how to teach them. I think that is very important. You must understand
them the way they come daily because they can be a different person tomorrow. You have to take it one day at a time.”
     While Reyes is instinctively positive, it fits into her overall strategy of working with special education students. “I hope I infect
people with my positive attitude,” Reyes said. “That is my goal. I guess with students who have more positive influences, I guess,
they can learn more. They are more adept at learning and their learning is open because they like what they are doing and they like
the teaching. Of course, sometimes there is a negativity. But that is something you have to get them away from and let them stay
positive.
      You have to help them build their self-esteem so that they can be a ready learner. We give them a very conducive place for
them, which is a part of special education. One of the pillars of special education is the least restrictive environment where they can
learn the most. It could be in the general education classroom. Or it could be separate room where it is more conducive for them and
have fewer distractions. It all depends on what the kids need.”
      Reyes has always been a hard worker. With a son and two children, Reyes has also always put in a lot of time with children.
She worked during summer sessions in the Gym and Educational Activities Motivating Students, GEMS Program, at Lindbergh
Elementary School. “I like working with kids,” Reyes emphasized. “I don’t care if it is all year long because that is what it is. I like
working in the programs and going out with them wherever they go. The summer programs are a less structured environment. I think
it is important for you to see those talents that the students have during summer school. I felt like that was a good summer break for
me. I’m doing something that I like to do and at the same time, I’m earning money. It’s like a win-win situation. You like what you are
doing and then you get a monetary award on top of it.”
      Reyes quit working the summer programs a few years ago in order to concentrate on her doctorate. All of the additional class
work and demands of a doctoral program could have been overwhelming for Reyes, but her family was very supportive.
     “Being a full-time worker, a teacher, when you get home, there should be a time when you spend time with your family,” Reyes
said. “I guess that is why I am very thankful for my family because they are letting me do something beyond just being with them. It is
very unselfish that way. So I have time to study and I don’t feel guilty, although some times I do. But my family would assure me that it
is okay for me to do what I am doing. And they are very, very supportive of what I am doing. And with my career ambition, I think
what you need are the people who will support you. If they are not around, it would be impossible. It just happened that I have a
husband who really cares about what I do and so do both of my kids.”
      Reyes doctoral thesis is titled ‘Collaboration of Special and General Education Teachers towards Sustainability.’ She has two
chapters to write yet and must then defend her thesis before a committee put together by Edgewood. “We want to sustain the
collaboration so we can give better service to the students in a free and appropriate environment,” Reyes said. “I had to do research
and interviews for two school districts on what their activities are toward collaboration.”
      Reyes is also thinking about the impact of language on special education students in that how do the disability and the language
deficit interact and sometimes get confused by others. She is ESL certified. “I still need to discover how I can teach kids who are
English language learners and have disabilities or have other disabilities and make sure that those disabilities are really learning
disabilities and not just because they are handicapped in language production because they have other languages,” Reyes said.
For Reyes, in the end, it is all about the children. She sees potential in every child and works hard to let that talent come out. “I like
being involved with the students who are the most difficult to work with,” Reyes said. “I enjoy seeing kids become successful and
being a part of that certain portion of their lives, I think it can make a big difference. Maybe it is ambitious for me, but I like to see kids
get their talents out, bring them out in the open and develop strategies on how to do that. What are the kinds of things that you can do
to help the kids expose their talents and discover their talents. You have to do it a lot of different ways.”
      While up to now Reyes has been totally hands on with the students, she does see herself moving into some administrative
duties, especially in the area of staff development and training. “I would like to teach teachers about collaboration and what the
district would like us to teach,” Reyes said.
     It’s not difficult to imagine Reyes infecting the teachers with the same positive attitude that she bestows on the children.
Beth Reyes is a Filipino American in Madison's
school system.