Eighth grader Hali Aldridge is a different child than she was just a few years ago.
A former struggling special education student, Hali today is a successful learner, recently nominated for a leadership position at her school.
Her mother credits much of the change to her Ironwood Elementary Special Education Teacher Helen Ciba.
Ciba was recently selected from more than 500 nominees as “Teacher of the Year” in the “Excellence in Education” program sponsored by Rio Salado College in partnership with KEZ 99.9 FM.
“I can hardly believe it happened to me. I look around and there is a lot of awesome teachers and how it could be me just amazes me,” said Ciba.
Marianne Aldridge, Hali's mother said without Ciba’s help and her daughter’s hard work Hali’s life would be very different.
“My daughter is now completely in regular classes and preparing to go to high school next year. She is a successful and bright child getting all A's and B's and nothing but praise from her 8th grade teachers,” said Aldridge.
“Mrs. Ciba was always there and willing to help with questions or concerns or just inspiring my daughter to be the best she could be,” wrote Aldridge in her nomination letter.
Ciba is passionate about her role as a mentor and teacher. In fact she’s not ready for summer vacation. She’d be happy if she could stay in the classroom for another month or two.
“I don’t want the school year to end. I still have more to teach,” said the special education teacher.
Although awarded the “Teacher of the Year,” Ciba is fairly new in the classroom. A volunteer in the school her kids attended, it was the principal who persuaded Ciba to consider teaching.
“I’ve know Helen a lot of years. I always loved her enthusiasm and her creativity with kids,” said Ironwood Elementary Principal Jim Padglick.
Ciba began teaching special education in 2001 with an emergency certification earning her teaching degree nights and weekends.
She teaches a fourth and fifth grade cross categorical behavioral class, students for the most part who are behaviorally challenged.
“Helen is very patient and works very well and truly cares about students. It is hard to maintain that with the population as tough as she has,” said Padglick.
Watching students progress and make changes during the year is rewarding for Ciba.
“I love to watch the kids have the ah ha experience, it just really thrills me,” said Ciba.
Rio Salado began the “Excellence in Education” program two years ago to recognize and reward teachers who are role models and mentors for their students and have made an outstanding contribution to education. One teacher each month is selected throughout the school year for a total of nine. The nine selected throughout the year are recognized at a special luncheon held in May. Ciba was awarded a check for $999 from KEZ.
Teachers are role models said Salado College President Linda Thor as she thanked the nine “Excellence in Education” winners.
“You are being honored today because you are role models who inspire. We want to say thank you for the many lives you shape. Thank you for being great teachers who inspire.” said Thor.