Elon grad student named South Mebane Elementary’s Teacher of the Year

Cara Maschi ’09, now pursuing her master’s degree in education, is honored for her commitment to special education students

Written by Taylor Sharp ‘16

Working in special education comes with its own set of challenges. Identifying effective ways to embrace and combat those challenges is what won special education teacher Cara Maschi the title of South Mebane Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year.

“I think every day you need to go into your classroom prepared for the unexpected.” Maschi said. “You have to flexible with anything that comes at you – schedule changes, kids in bad situations or situations in which they need special attention. The big thing about teaching is being able to collaborate, coordinate and cooperate with everybody.”

As important as collaboration, coordination and cooperation is to Maschi, it was her commitment to her students that really set her apart. One example is when she spent time during the summer, outside of South Mebane’s academic year, devoting her time to the progress of one promising student.

“Brian (name has been changed) came to me at the end of kindergarten,” Maschi recalled. “He has a learning disability in reading, math and writing, and has speech and language as well as motor concerns. He also has ADHD. He worked really hard with [his teachers] through first grade. He had made so much progress that year that we didn’t want him to lose it over the summer. He’s from a low socioeconomic situation, and we weren’t sure if he would have easy access to the resources he needs. So when summer came, his speech and language teacher and I decided we needed to do something to support him.”

Throughout the summer, Maschi visited Brian, taking him on trips to local museums, farms and other learning opportunities. At the end of the day, Maschi had Brian write about his experiences. “We took him to places he’d never been before and let him see and experience new and exciting things,” Maschi said. “He was able to use those experiences to improve his understanding of writing and language.”

Maschi said that Brian is now flourishing, and that many people are unable to tell that he has a learning disability at all. “It’s been so great to see the skills he developed over the summer continue now,” Maschi said. “He’s writing on his own now. He can also attend math classes with non-disabled students. He’s so proud of himself because he did it!”

Maschi, who landed her job at South Mebane after student teaching there while she was an Elon undergrad, said she was surprised and humbled by her selection as Teacher of the Year. She said the research-based academics in the M.Ed. program, in which she is a current student, continues to push her to a deeper understanding of the disabilities her students face. “You have to discover ways to support their disability to provide them with the success they need,” she said. “You can’t let their disability define them as a student.”

Elon professor Stephen Byrd, who taught Maschi as an undergrad and aided in her decision to continue her education at Elon, said he wasn’t at all surprised at Maschi’s success. “I think Cara has a deep care and understanding of kids with disabilities.” Byrd said. “She wants them to do the very best they can. She doesn’t have low expectations, she has very high expectations for her students.”