Annabella Saccaro

Signing into her school district portal, ESE Coordinator Julie Craver finishes her tasks before an upcoming meeting. “I do meetings [with] kids that have been identified as having some kind of a learning disability, or maybe have an emotional disability or a physical disability,” Mrs. Craver said. “[Then], we go through a process of [deeming] them eligible, and we develop what’s called an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for those kids.”

A bright-eyed third grade girl walked into a special needs classroom on an army base, making crafts with the other students and playing with them at recess. That first experience with disabled children grew into a love for teaching that carries through to ESE Coordinator Julie Craver’s career. 

   “I never wanted to be anything else but a teacher,” Mrs. Craver said. “I went to college right out of high school and got a job here in Palm Beach County in August of 1981, and I’ve been doing that ever since.” 

   According to the Center For Disease Control, one in six children in the U.S. has a single or multiple “developmental disabilities or other developmental delays.” The Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, a branch under the Florida Department of Education, aims to provide programs that accommodate the population of disabled students throughout the state. However, when Mrs. Craver began teaching at Dreyfoos, there was no such program in place. She took matters into her own hands.

   “I started the ESE [Exceptional Student Education] program [here],” Mrs. Craver said. “There [weren’t] many ESE teacher[s], so I had to figure out what kind of services [students] needed. My job was to go find the kids that had plans that said they were eligible and figure out who was who, and what kind of classes I could pull them out [of] to give them some support.”

   Other teachers in the ESE program include Speech-Language Pathologist Robin Ray, who helps students such as communications sophomore Benji Gans with peer interactions and appropriate classroom behavior. 

   “Generally speaking, there are people that see Ms. Ray for all sorts of instances,” Gans said. “But for me coming to school with the previous diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, I do share deficit in basic social interactions, so that’s why I see her for 60 minutes per week.”

   Although there is now an ESE program in place, Mrs. Craver explains that more resources need to be implemented to create the most supportive environment for students. 

   “[We do not] have enough resources in the mental health area, [especially] because that issue is really exploding,” Ms. Craver said. “We have a lot of kids struggling with issues and they need someone to talk to, and they want to speak with someone who is completely objective and that they know is going to listen and not go and blab it to anyone else. It’s great to have your friends do that, but sometimes friends aren’t equipped with the same resources that a licensed mental health counselor has.”

   Despite this adversity, certain members of the school community have gone above and beyond to help ESE students out on a daily basis. One of the people who shines in this department is science teacher Kendra Huff.  

   “[Ms. Huff] also facilitates my success here at Dreyfoos,” Gans said. “What she did was she basically appealed against almost all of my teachers and said, ‘This is the way I see Benji, and this is what I think would be helpful to him in my classroom, and I’d like to see this XYZ behavior change.’ [She also helps me by] going over what to do in certain social instances. She has been really going out of her way.” 

   From army bases to school hallways, Mrs. Craver has always had the same goal in mind for all of her students: to be able to champion for themselves when they leave high school. 

   “[My favorite part of my job] is working and advocating for the kids,” Mrs. Craver said. “I want them to be able to know that it’s okay to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this plan and I’m supposed to have this and I’m not quite sure you understand what it is. So, let me explain it to you so I can get the most out of [it].’ ”