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SSD Teacher of the Year Vicki Nelson's passion for language and technology showcases student potential

On first glance, Vicki Nelson's classroom at Litzsinger School resembles a computer lab more than a traditional classroom. From augmentative communication devices that help children with speech impairments "speak," to computers loaded with customized software and iPods for every child, Nelson has the right tech tools to reach each child in her class.

"The reason I have this technology is because the kids need it. Everything in this room is driven by student need," said Nelson, the recipient of the 2010 SSD Teacher of the Year award.

The fourth- through eighth-graders in Nelson's classroom have significant language impairments, and Nelson uses technology to help her students access the curriculum and communicate in the greater community.

For example, her students complete two written reports per quarter, using a graphic organizer computer program. This program, customized to the level and needs of each child, helps the students complete research independently, and to organize their thoughts and sentences into paragraphs. The students also use computers to create presentations and drawings to complement their reports.

"Several students can't draw, but they will now choose during free time to open a paint program and draw on the computer," Nelson said.

Each student in Nelson's class takes an iPod home each day. The device has enhanced communication with parents, and Nelson uses it to share training videos, and upload videos of the projects and activities the children are doing throughout the day. The device also helps the students communicate and gain independence while at home.

"I never in a million years thought Louis would know how to navigate an iPod," said Mary Kay Basler, whose son Louis, is in Nelson's classroom. "That's going to be his ticket to communication."

Because of his new skills, Louis, age 12, can go into a restaurant and order by himself with the assistance of an iPhone.

"Vicki's passion is combining technology and language development," said Dan Kelly, principal at Litzsinger School. On a basic level, Nelson is committed to ensuring each child has a way to communicate his or her wants and needs. From there, Kelly said, she can expand vocabulary and work on communicating in sentences and even paragraphs. "The technology opens the doors for these kids, and Vicki has a knack for learning how to use software and making it relevant for her student," Kelly said.

Having taught at SSD for 30 years, Nelson also extends her knowledge of technology by teaching future educators at Fontbonne University.

As powerful as technology is, even more powerful is Nelson's expectations of her students and command of the classroom, Basler said.

"She sees something in all of her students, and she's willing to work and work and work to achieve the goal," Basler said. "She's strict, which is what they need, and she's also incredibly loving."
Vicki Nelson's class
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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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