An aide, and a very special dog, are all part of her ESE class.
Five years ago, Jaime Byrne interviewed for a teaching position in a learning disabled class at Wadsworth Elementary. She had experience in St. Johns and Duval counties. During the interview she was told that position was filled, but there was an opening for the emotionally disabled class.
“I knew what this job entailed. It’s a hard job,” she said. “I told him I would do it, and little did I know I would fall in love with it.”
She doesn’t do it alone. She has an ESE aide and a “good team.”
“I can’t say it enough; you have to have good administration and people you can trust, because you are going to have hard days. It’s not like teaching general ed.”
Byrne has created a schedule that allows for the teaching of multiple groups at different times and different places throughout the day.
“Almost every kid in my class is mainstreamed for one class, if not more,” she said.
After watching service dogs work with autistic children, Byrne decided to implement a similar program in her class, starting with a hamster. She moved up to a guinea pig, and now has Scooby, a 3-year-old Shih tzu.
“Scooby is a certified emotional support animal,” she said. “He has an important job – to provide unconditional love.”
Scooby is drawn to the students that need him, and will sit down beside them. If a student is physically aggressive or loud, he goes to his special area.
“I have a picture of him when he was rescued, he was abused, and we talk about why we don’t make loud noises and we are careful around him, because it might trigger memories, just like their memories are triggered by certain things.”
Byrne often hears from former students.
“I have kids in high school who are succeeding in the mainstream. They are happy with themselves,” she said.
While academics are an important part of her class study, behavior focus is primary. The class learns anger management skills, how to express themselves when they are upset, and how to get along.
“Behavior is first, then academics,” she said. “You have to have your head straight first, then you can learn.”