This Inclusive Program for Special Needs Changed This Memphis Mom’s Outlook

Jada Dean

When Valencia Dean enrolled her daughter Jada into Wooddale Middle School 5 years ago, she immediately knew that she had found the perfect school for her daughter. Dean attributes this to the special education program and Green Dot teacher Chanda Cordova. “Her passion attracted me. When Jada joined her class it felt like a weight was taken off of my shoulders. I felt so comfortable leaving my child in school, which was something I hadn't felt in a very long time,” reflected Dean.

At prior schools, the learning environments often left Dean feeling uneasy, and she found herself visiting the schools more often and requesting to sit in on lessons. “Parents with special needs children don't always feel secure with schools because some kids can't tell you what's happened that day. And so Jada had some good teachers in between, but none gave me the security that I felt when she started going to Green Dot.” When Dean learned Cordova was moving to Fairley High School she knew that after middle school, Jada would join the Fairley Bulldog family.

Serving All Children

At Fairley, Cordova led the functional skills class, a course that provides a more specialized and immersive learning environment for students with disabilities that impact their intellectual functioning. This class utilizes Tennessee standards based curriculum to meet the cognitive needs of each student, to best help them meet their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals. A key component of the class is developing fundamental skills to increase students’ personal independence and help them successfully navigate daily life.

“I started teaching them how to be independent and how to take care of themselves and they started picking up on it. They started saying ‘I want to be a leader, I wanted to be a teacher,” said Chanda Cordova, Special Education teacher at Fairley High School. “Every day is a life skill, it could be cooking or washing. I'd create a lesson where we’d have to use the transportation schedule to go downtown. They’d have to tell me what we’re gonna do, what bus we’re going to take, and how much it’s going to cost.” With an average of 15 students, the functional skills class ensured that Cordova could deeply connect with students and provide each of them with individualized attention and support.

"This lady goes out of her way to make sure these children are taken care of and she does whatever she can to help the parents too."

-Jada Dean, Green Dot Parent

As Jada’s middle school and high school teacher, Cordova saw Jada exhibit tremendous growth. Once shy and reserved, Jada would be the first person in class to volunteer and was always eager to help her peers if they were struggling. In 2018, Jada was also diagnosed with Hodkin’s Lymphoma; when she was able to return to school Dean had no doubts that her daughter would receive the care and support she needed to be successful.

During this challenging time, Dean and her family saw the Fairley community rally around Jada. When Jada returned to school she spoke with Cordova about her struggle with hair loss, which moved the teacher to tears. “To see a child that way it makes you feel hurt. So I said ‘let’s go and pick out some wigs.’ So me, her, and mom went and got her a wig,” said Cordova. For Cordova this was a small way she could help Jada feel more confident and comfortable at school. “This lady goes out of her way to make sure these children are taken care of and she does whatever she can to help the parents too,” said Dean.

It’s All About the Students

As a Green Dot student, Jada developed a new love for learning. “She went from ‘I don’t wanna go to school’ to ‘Momma why can’t I go to school,’” said Dean. During the COVID-19 school closures and launch of distance learning, students and families felt just as connected to Cordova as they did in prior months. Each day, she would schedule time to connect with students and families individually to align on course work and to check on how they were doing. “Ms. Cordova made sure that we knew what our child had to complete in order to graduate at the end of the year.”

At Green Dot, our Special Education Program Administrators (SEPAS) work with educators and families on transition plans to ensure students’ are equipped for success after high school. This collaboration helps high school students with disabilities transition from our schools to postsecondary education or vocational training. Working with the special education team at Fairley, Dean was able to enroll Jada in a career placement transition program that helps young adults with disabilities develop skills related to their career interests.

Reflecting on Jada’s experience at Wooddale and Fairley, Dean appreciates Green Dot’s commitment to serving all students. As a Green Dot student, Jada went on college tours and was exposed to the same postsecondary opportunities as students without disabilities. “I want my child to be able to do whatever it is she puts her mind to and Ms. Cordova was the key. She was the key to making sure I could provide this for my child,” said Dean.