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For Deborah Bryan, Premier High School of Little Rock’s special education teacher, her job is all about providing students with the structure and emotional support they need to be successful. Her student focused mindset led to the Little Rock Family Magazine selecting her to receive their 2016 Amazing Educator Award for Special Education.

Campus director Dennis Felton believes Ms. Bryan plays a key role in helping students realize their potential.

“I have seen students start in Ms. Bryan’s class lacking confidence in their ability to do well, and by the end of the year they know they have what it takes to do anything they set their mind to. The hope we at Premier seek to provide students with is all made possible by wonderful teachers like Ms. Bryan,” said Mr. Felton.

Empowering students to be independent learners is Ms. Bryan’s end goal, but for her the first step is to change students’ attitudes towards school by building a relationship with each student.

“Unfortunately, a lot of our students have experienced a lot of failure before they came to our school, and they come with the attitude that this is going to be too hard, that they are not going to get along with other students or won’t like teachers. Premier is entirely different. I talk and work with each student every day to keep them from building up that fear. When they suddenly find themselves succeeding, it surprises them,” said. Ms. Bryan.

When Ms. Bryan entered education she never thought she would be teaching high school, but in her 17 years in education she has taught grades from Pre-K to middle school and high school. Much of her success as a high school special education teacher she credits to her experience teaching Pre-K.

“The funny thing is that the same skills you need for Pre-K, you also need for high school. When it comes to helping students meet their high school goals, a positive classroom environment, structure and clearly defined expectations are essential,” said Ms. Bryan.

Interested in special education partly due to her son being diagnosed as ADHD and dyslexic when he was in kindergarten, Ms. Bryan decided to go back to school for a degree in special education at the age of 50.

“I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about. In my time in the early grades, I realized how important it was to identify learning disabilities at a young age and help students develop the skills they need to encounter it before they fall behind. It is often surprising how many students come to us at Premier with an unidentified learning disability,” said Ms. Bryan.

In addition to helping her student build the skills they need to be independent learners, Ms. Bryan also challenges her students to see just how much they are capable of accomplishing.

“Our school offers students the opportunity to take college level classes. I am encouraging some of my students to take one of those classes. Often my students struggle only in one particular subject, and when they see how well they can do in one of their strong subjects it really opens their eyes. They realize college is something they can do,” she said.

Ms. Bryan has made a lasting impact on many of her students’ lives. Even after they have graduate, some former students will come back to visit and ask her advice on college homework.

As a recipient of the 2016 Little Rock Family Magazine Amazing Educator Award for Special Education, Ms. Bryan will receive $1,000 and be featured in the January 2017 issue of the Little Rock Family Magazine.

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