March is National Disability Awareness Month.
And 5 women long involved in the Westport Public School’s special education program have suggested 3 people as Unsung Heroes, for their tremendous work in that field.
Kate Frascella, Kate Grijns, Sivan Hong, Becky Martin and Abby Tolan write:
Merrily Bodell, Stacie Curran and Sharuna Mahesh have actively served the special education community in our town for well over a decade. Principally they’ve been longtime leaders and members of the Special Education PTA, but they’ve also advocated for people with disabilities throughout our town.
They have forged a path forward full of opportunity and promise for all kids with disabilities in our schools, and after they graduate.
SpEd PTA is a committee operating under the Westport PTA Council that meets monthly with Westport school district administrators.
SpEd PTA — comprised of parent representatives from each school, plus out-placed students — advocates for our students, communicates parental concerns, and conveys vital information from the administration to SpEd families.
In their time on SpEd PTA, which began when their children were in pre-school at Stepping Stones and continues nearly 16 years later, Merrily, Stacie and Sharuna have advocated passionately for their children and ours. Most recently, they played a key role establishing the transitions program “Connections” that keeps students in Westport after graduation in a job training and life skills program.
These women push for the improvement of services for SpEd students and the education of families new to special education through newsletters and programming, like “Understanding your IEP.” They have led dozens of monthly “Sip ‘n Chat” conversations for SpEd parents.
They promote fun for our kids by establishing SpEd PTA’s Community Fun Day, promoting opportunities like Challenger Baseball, and working with many other local organizations to offer programs for kids with special needs.
All 3 women also devote considerable time to causes that create opportunities for children and adults with disabilities in Westport and beyond. Stacie and Sharuna are active with the Remarkable Theater; Sharuna also dedicates her talents to Westport Book Sale Ventures, both of which create work opportunities for people with disabilities.
Stacie serves on Westport’s Commission on People with Disabilities. Merrily is on the board of directors of School the World, a community-driven nonprofit committed to solving extreme poverty through the power of education.
Perhaps most importantly, all 3 have offered their constant hope, reassurance and advice to parents struggling with new diagnoses or challenges.
Becky Martin, current SpEd PTA co-chair, recalls wondering in a meeting if she should be pushing her child to accomplish more academically, given her challenges.
“Sharuna looked me in the eye and said, ‘always push.’ I still hear her saying that in the back of my mind sometime. I hold it as a constant reminder of my job as a parent of a child with challenges,” says Becky.
We will protect their children’s privacy, but they too should be recognized for their trailblazing and hard work that has led to better education and services for all of our children here in Westport.
Congratulations Merrily, Stacie and Sharuna. What a meaningful way to honor National Disability Awareness Month!
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email email@example.com)