Amelia Graser: Special needs educator
By Celeste McNeil; photo courtesy of Amelia Graser
Amelia Graser has spent her life in education. As a child in Los Angeles, she helped in her mother’s third grade class, running ditto copies, sharpening pencils, organizing and cleaning erasers. She played school in the playhouse her father built her. Teaching was a natural choice for her as she contemplated a career.
After graduating from Sonoma State University in K-12 general education, Graser recognized a shortage in special education teachers in LA. She was familiar with special education because her mother switched from teaching traditional elementary to teaching those with special needs when Graser was a teenager. Graser accepted a job at The Berenece Carlson Home / Hospital School, which served children with emotional disturbances. Her influence on children with additional needs began there, and she hasn’t looked back.
After her employment with Berenece Carlson, Graser worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital for children age 12 and younger.
“Most of the kids were placed there by social services,” said Graser. “I loved working with this population of kids. They needed a lot, but it was rewarding work.”
After several years, Graser transitioned into private education, teaching middle school students who had been expelled from the public school system. She worked closely with parole officers and child services to help get students caught up on missing credits, increase work habits and interest in school. Because of the physical demand of her job, Graser moved back to Berenece Carlson while expecting her first child.
Graser later taught in Harbor UCLA Medical Center, as a pediatric ward teacher. Many of her students faced serious medical situations, including transplants, sickle cell disease, AIDS, diabetes or cancer. Of that time, Graser reflected, “It was very interesting working with medical staff and learning about various diseases and genetic conditions. It was sad because several students I worked with passed away from cancer.”
After moving to Castle Pines 20 years ago and the birth of her second child, Graser worked part time at Timber Trail Elementary as an educational aide (EA) in the Severe Special Needs (SSN) program with Jane Lentz. Working part time allowed her to focus on her son’s special needs and the four-to-six hours of therapy he received each week. Having a child with a disability “has given me the opportunity to see both sides of special education,” she stated. “I wanted the best for my son and that made me want to give the best to other children in my program,” Graser stated.
Amelia Graser has spent her life in education. The program has grown significantly since she started at BRE. “My ultimate goal is to help every child become as independent as possible. Each child’s ability to be independent is different, but if they could tell you, I believe that is their wish.”
Graser praised BRE staff, administration and especially the EAs who support her and their students. “The EAs are essential to running this program. They give of themselves daily and they love these kids. We are a team that relies on each other for help and support.”
BRE Principal Jen Murdock-Jacoway agreed and extended the compliment to Graser, “Amelia has a heart of gold and is always willing to go above and beyond for our students and staff. BRE is grateful for Amelia each and every day.”