Jennifer Ward, San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) Teacher of the Year, was inspired as a child to go into the Deaf education field and support students in need.
“I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else,” she explained.
Ward had a friend in middle school who was Deaf and taught her some sign language so they could communicate.
“At the time I didn’t realize how lonely and isolating that must have been. Looking back, I realize that it must not have been easy for her,” said Ward, who has focused on equity in her teaching practice, ensuring every student has access to a high-quality education.
Ward said she was in “total shock” when she found out she was named SDCOE Teacher of the Year.
“I went up against some really amazing teachers,” she said. “That makes it extra special.”
She will go on to represent SDCOE in the countywide Teacher of the Year competition.
“It’s great teachers like Jennifer who are making a difference for students all across the county,” said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. “Her focus on equity and ensuring that students with disabilities have the tools they need to advocate for themselves is a powerful example of what SDCOE is all about.”
Ward has been an itinerant teacher with the East County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) since 2015, working with students from pre-K to 12th grade who are Deaf or hard of hearing. She consults with teachers and other employees, recommending instructional materials, troubleshooting assistive technology, differentiating instruction, modifying curriculum, and monitoring student progress.
Itinerant teachers don’t have their own classroom. Instead, they travel from school to school, and help to make it possible for students with special needs to stay in their neighborhood school and in a mainstream classroom setting. Ward typically visits four or five schools a day, working with students in 30-minute sessions.
Colleague Angela Sorrem said Ward shows passion and dedication and has the expertise to serve the students experiencing hearing loss across East County school districts.
Ward is working toward a doctorate in international and multicultural education with a concentration in human rights. She uses her specialized knowledge to serve the large population of students who are refugees and inform them of their rights as a person with a disability.
Ward said she’s thankful to the East County SELPA team.
“I couldn’t do my job without them believing in me,” she said.