On the crisp fall morning of October 1, 2020, teachers all over the district were being surprised with Teacher Grant awards they had applied for in the spring. But for a select five LISD employees, they were about to surprised with a different award, one they had to be nominated for by peers, parents and students – the Cain Sczepanski Award of Excellence.
Created by Bill, Carolyn and Cara Sczepanski, the Cain Sczepanski Foundation was established in memorial to their son and brother, Cain. Cain lived for 24 years with Down syndrome and heart defects. He died on March 7, 2011, of a heart attack. Cain spent 18 years under the guidance of dedicated LISD instructors and paraprofessionals. The Award of Excellence was created by the Cain Sczepanski Foundation in Special Education to annually recognize special educators who demonstrate classroom excellence.
Congratulations to our 2020 winners!
- JENNIFER HAMPTON, Flower Mound Elementary
- REBEKAH JANSEN, Polser Elementary
- DEBRA BRADFORD, Hedrick Middle School
- MELANIE NOVARRO, Downing Middle School
- KIM WATSON, Marcus High School
Jennifer Hampton took the opportunity to transform childhood academic struggles into an inclusive teaching environment that immediately puts students, parents and coworkers at ease.
One of many examples of her comforting demeaner is the testimony of a parent to one of her previous students. A young boy diagnosed with autism and a mother terrified to leave him on his first day of kindergarten, Hampton greeted them both kindly and reassured them both in a calm voice.
“I know in my heart Trevor would not be where he is today without the kind and loving help Mrs. Hampton provided starting on the very first day of school,” says the parent.
Believing that students will learn best when they feel accepted, are treated as a unique individual and are given multiple opportunities throughout their day to shine, Hampton also shares her knowledge with fellow teachers, leading Best Practices sessions and creating learning materials for others to reference.
“I believe in a system, where it is okay to not know all the answers. I teach my students that mistakes are proof that they are trying and willing. They need to feel acknowledged, heard, and most of all valued as a student. I believe the true measure of learning is not found from what I have done, rather can be found in how my students feel about their own successes along the way,” says Hampton.
Co-workers and peers cannot rave enough about Rebekah Jansen’s exceptional communication skills. As an Academic Life Skills (ALS) Special education teacher, she goes beyond the call of periodic updates but instead communicates openly and earnestly with parents, students and peers on a regular basis, creating an inclusive environment for students to prosper in.
Jansen has a long history of connecting with Special Education students, beginning at Heritage Elementary where she spent time doing music therapy with students. She then continued with being a classroom aide at Briarhill Middle School and progressed to joining the Circle of Friends Prom at Marcus High School. It’s at the Circle of Friends Prom that Jansen has a memory forever preserved in a picture with none other than Cain Sczepanski, for whom this award is a tribute to.
“Cain was one of so many friends that brought so much joy to my life and left an impact on my heart forever,” says Jansen.
Jansen also attributes her love of working in Special Education to the time she spent with her little brother, a child with Down Syndrome whom her parents decided to foster when she was in middle school.
“In the past 18 years, we have shared so many special memories together. He has a very special place in my heart and has forever changed my life. After all of these wonderful experiences, I knew that being a Special Education teacher is exactly where I was meant to be and I knew too that it was part of my mission to share with the world the same joy, kindness, compassion, and love that I felt by showing them how incredible people with disabilities are,” says Jansen.
Understanding that all students, especially Special Education student, learn in different ways, Debra Bradford of Hedrick Middle School strives each day to connect students to their lessons by presenting the material in different ways.
“My Philosophy for instruction for students with disabilities is to use as many visuals as possible, use hands on activities as much as possible, connect their learning to real-life situations, and give them the opportunity to practice and receive help when needed. When help is needed, I try to help them learn to find answers for themselves or guide their thinking to show them that they are able to think for themselves,” says Bradford.
Starting as a Special Education aide for LISD 10 years ago, Bradford continued her work with children with special needs in Content Mastery and as an Inclusion aide at the high school level. Now Bradford is a 7th and 8th Grade Math Resource teacher, helping students learn difficult concepts by teaching at a slower pace with more visuals and one-on-one guidance.
“Debra is patient and caring with her Special Education Resource math students. She has helped students be successful on the STAAR test when they never had been before,” says Jane Castillo, Testing Coordinator and SPED Lead Teacher of Hedrick Middle School. “I believe that the students and staff at Hedrick Middle School are lucky to have such a dedicated and effective educator on its campus. I know she is a teacher who loves what she does and is an asset to Lewisville I.S.D.”
Melanie Novarro approaches her role as an Academic Life Skills Lead Paraprofessional with the same amount of love and nurturing as any mother would for her own child. The children she works with adore her and their parents recognize how valuable she has been in their child’s development.
“We first met Melanie when my son, Landon was in the second grade at McAuliffe Elementary. She became his PARA & continued with Landon through elementary school and Downing Middle School,” says LISD parent Julie Faulkner. “She was such an integral part of Landon’s academic success within LISD. As a parent, we pray fervently for others to see our special needs kids the way we see them – through our eyes. TO be nurtured, understood, taught, included & most importantly loved. ‘Mith Menanie’ as Landon calls her is one of those people.”
Novarro can be found cheering with her students at football games or bonding with them out of school with movie nights or play dates. She has became such an integral part of her student’s lives and continues to provide academic support through love, nurturing and guidance to all the children in her school.
“It is my desire to give these children everything I have day to day and never stop fighting for everything they deserve. Being in this field is not a job for me, it is a blessing,” says Novarro.
Kim Watson is the only awardee this year working in the general education department instead of Special Education. Watson is a Family & Consumer Science Teacher at Marcus High School and comes from a long line of educators in her family.
She first began working with Special Education students when she learned of the Circle of Friends organization in 2008. This inspired her to find a way for her “future educators” (the group of students she sponsored in the Texas Association of Future Educators or TAFE) to participate with special needs students. This sparked her first project partnering her future educators with Life Skills students in a project making over 400 Homecoming mums and garters.
Watson and her students enjoyed the “Circle of Mum” nights so much, she knew immediately she wanted the Life Skills students to participate in the TAFE Special Edition competitive conference. Three Life Skills students partnered with a general education “buddy” to create a “Special Edition Bulletin Board” for elementary students fitting the competition theme and criteria for that year. Last year, four Special Edition teams qualified to continue to the State competition in McAllen, Texas. Watson worked tirelessly to arrange flights and hotel accommodations for the students and thei parents to attend the conference.
“I very much wanted to provide this unique experience for our Life Skills students,” says Warson. “They are not included in many UIL competitions and earning the right to compete at the state level in an academic competition is a first for Marcus High School. I feel like this opportunity is going to be a lasting life-long memory for all my students.”