A District 117 teacher of autistic children has been named this year’s Bill Russell Excellence in Education Award winner.
Carol Hedrick teaches at Eisenhower Elementary School. She was a special education teacher for over three decades before becoming an autism teacher in 2012, working with autistic children who can’t study in a regular classroom.
Hedrick says it’s the most challenging experience she’s ever had as a teacher, but it’s also the most rewarding.
“I have a child also who has autism, so it gives me a different perspective, I think, bringing it back to the classroom,” she says. “At first, my response to teaching this class was, how am I going to do this 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? But, I feel very blessed to be able to have done this. I really, truly enjoy working with these children every day.”
Hedrick says over the last three years, the program has changed.
“The first couple years, I had children that were self-contained in my class, plus I also helped support children who were out in the regular [education] classrooms, but then last year and this year, I have just strictly students in my classroom all day,” she explains. “The instance rate continues to go up, and we have more students that need more intensive programming, and so the programming has switched and changed to more intensive programming within my classroom.”
She adds that the autism program has had wonderful support from the District 117 administration and teachers, noting there was a second classroom added at Eisenhower this year to support more students.
Hedrick says she’s honored and blessed to receive the Bill Russell Award.
“I’ll start my 34th year teaching here in January, and so, I’ve sat in opening ceremonies for, like, 33 years, and being so inspired and thinking about the people that have been chosen for this award, and then when they called and told me that I was receiving the award, I was just very overwhelmed with emotion,” Hedrick says.
This is the 27th year for the Bill Russell Award, which was presented earlier this week at Jacksonville High School.