By CRISTINA JANNEY
When school was forced to go to remote learning this spring, Tasha Lang and her staff at the STAR program at Roosevelt Elementary School went into overdrive.
Karen McCullough, nominated Lang, a low-incidents special education teacher, for September's Hays Post Teacher of the Month for the help she provided her special needs daughter, Natalie, during the shutdown.
"We saw regression in our daughter after a few days of being home, as she could not cognitively understand why she couldn't go to school and spend time with the teachers and friends she loves," McCullough said.
The family reached out to Lang and asked how they could work with her to make remote learning possible for Natalie. Within a day, Natalie's desk at school arrived at the family's home with tubs of learning materials, which Lang and her paras used to work online with Natalie for three 30-minute Zoom sessions each day.
"Our daughter really liked connecting with teachers and paras and learning from our home," McCullough said. "She regained old skills and learned new skills while at home."
McCullough added, "Mrs. Tasha and her team at STAR school did an amazing job of supporting families and dealing with so many uncertainties.
"We are forever grateful of the support Mrs. Tasha has given our daughter throughout her time as her teacher and appreciate all the work she did to ensure she could continue to learn from home, which was not an easy feat!"
McCullough was not the only one singing Lang's praises.
"Tasha’s dedication to her students is not only while they are in her class, but also outside the classroom," Renee Hoffman said in a Teacher of the Month nomination.
"I have seen her attend many events that her students have participated in. Her tears of happiness for their accomplishments are evidence of her love for her students and her special education career."
Jamie Wolbert also said in a nomination, "Tasha works with students with special needs with such care and compassion. She also has many paras who work for her, and she is just as kind and compassionate with them. She is overall the teacher I aim to be."
Lang said she was honored to hear the kind words.
"I'm emotional to think people see what we do day in and day out and they appreciate it, because, to us, it's a job," she said, "and we love it. It's normal day-to-day activities."
When the students moved to online learning in the spring, Lang and other special education teachers trained on how to deal with remote learning.
"The biggest thing that I took from that training was we have to presume potential for our students, and so that was our mindset all through remote," Lang said.
Parents learned their children could do things at home they never knew they could do by using their communication devices or visual aids and putting schedules in place.
She said the parents did a great job connecting with the school staff and helping their kids grow while they were at home.
"We are ready," she said. "For any reason we have to hybrid or remote again, I think we have a good plan in place."
Sending kids home was hard emotionally on the teachers and staff.
Lang cried when she learned the students would not finish their school year in person.
"It was very hard to know there was never a goodbye or end to it," she said. "We usually have an end-of-the-year party."
Lang and staff dropped off gifts and activities for the kids at their doors during the shutdown. Parents also sent pictures back to the teachers of the children completing their activities.
She said she never wants to go remote again.
"Contact with the kids is what myself and my paras need day in and day out," Lang said. "It's what keeps us going. It keeps us thinking about how we can better their education and better their lives and their life skills."
Lang said she gets excited every time a student learns a new word.
"I love seeing how smart they are," she said.
"Today, a kid, we spaced out her letters. She was able to tell us what the letter N was," Lang said. "It was a big celebration in here that she does know. We just have to pursue potential and change things up to help them show us how they learn."
Lang said STAR is like a family, not only for her, but all her staff. Twenty students are part of the STAR program this year.
"We don't just stop at 3 o'clock. There is a lot of family contact time after," she said. "There are pictures and videos shared from school to home."
Lang, 34, said she fell in love with special education as a peer tutor when she was a student at Hays Middle School. As a senior at HHS, she worked with students in the life skills class as part of a horticulture therapy project.
She went on to study at Kansas State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education, special education. She received a master's degree at K-State in low-incidents and high-incidents special education. She also has an autism certificate from Pittsburg State University.
Lang started her career in the Maize school district before moving back to Hays in 2012. She taught at Wilson Elementary School before the STAR program merged at Roosevelt in 2017.
STAR gives a place for students with special needs to belong, Lang said.
"Not all of our students can participate in outside sports," she said. "They can call this place home. They have friends. They have staff who care about them. They get to do fun activities outside in the community."