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Special School District of St. Louis County

SSD Honors 2020 Teacher of the Year

​Congratulations to Sarah Nowell, a teacher in SSD's Community-Based Vocational Instruction program, on being named SSD's 2020 Teacher of the Year. Leaders from SSD surprised her with the announcement on Jan. 31.

Nowell works with high school students from the Mehlville School District at their Community-Based Vocational Instruction (CBVI) worksite at Mercy Hospital South. She earned the honor for her dedication to student learning, collaboration and ability to connect students with new opportunities in the workplace.

“It is important to me that I teach those skills that will benefit their lives outside of the school environment,” Nowell said. “Educating young students is a task that can be full of challenges, frustrations and responsibilities. Yet, it is a task that is also full of excitement, wonder and joy.”

SSD’s CBVI program is designed for students with disabilities during their last two years of school, and expands their vocational training opportunities to community-based sites where they can learn in a naturally occurring environment. Nowell has been teaching students in her CBVI class at Mercy South Hospital for the last three school years.

“I have been impressed with Sarah’s innovative approach to introducing these students to the workings of the professional world,” said Mary Jo Wich, volunteer service coordinator at Mercy Hospital South. “I have seen Sarah calm upset and crying students, motivate students who wanted to slack off, spend her own money for hearing aid batteries for a hearing-impaired student, and much more. She clearly is a selfless educator whose primary concern is always for her students.”

Her dedication to students and her collaboration with Mercy has led to many of her students earning jobs at the hospital after they graduated. Nowell has been instrumental in the hiring of 52 percent of her students at the hospital since 2016.

“On many occasions, I have heard feedback that she is the key reason students are hired into full-time and part-time positions at the hospital and in other businesses in the community,” said Sandy Kempf, transition efective practice specialist at SSD. “The best teachers are often the ones that care the most deeply, not only about their jobs, but about the students they serve. Sarah demonstrates this daily.”

Nowell serves as work experience coordinator for Mehlville High School and has been a presenter for the CBVI Cohort, where she educated other CBVI teachers about best practices for their site classrooms. She also sponsors Friends Club to create opportunities for students with and without disabilities to spend time together after school to strengthen social skills and build relationships.

Nowell was selected as one of SSD’s 10 Key to the Classroom Award winners this year. The Key to the Classroom Award honors SSD’s top teachers for their creative approaches to student learning, innovative programming and commitment to student success. Nowell and the other award winners were selected among the more than 2,700 teacher-level staff members at SSD. They will be honored, along with other staff and community members, at the annual SSD Salutes Banquet on March 5 at the Moolah Temple in Maryland Heights.

Nowell will represent SSD next year in the statewide competition for Missouri Regional Teacher of the Year, a program sponsored by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Published January 2020


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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