A Special Need


special need

NEEDED: Special education teachers. The unimaginative, timid or easily discouraged need not apply. Or, in the words of Kathy Sandiford Harrell, “These are the kids who need powerful teachers.”

Harrell (`71), a longtime special education teacher and administrator and her husband, Dave (`71), have made a perpetual commitment to serving special education by endowing the Harold M. and Catherine D. Sandiford Memorial Scholarship. The award assists aspiring special ed teachers within Georgia Southern’s College of Education.

She didn’t realize it at the time, but Harrell’s career path was underway by the time she arrived on the Georgia Southern campus. It began as a part-time job with, at the time, one of the rare institutions in Georgia serving children who were mentally challenged or who had serious behavioral problems.

“Outside of Augusta was Gracewood State School and Hospital,” she said. “My middle sister was in college and worked summer internships there. My older sister is a nurse and ended up working full-time. I began working there the summer before my senior year in high school, and I did that for four summers.

“I got very attached to several of them,” Harrell said, about working in the cottages with the kids. “Because of my work there, it drew me to special education.”

Special education is a challenging field and chief among the challenges is getting and keeping enough qualified good teachers. Too often, she said, there are not enough efforts to recruit and retain special education teachers, with school systems hiring teachers who have no training or experience in dealing with the field’s unique issues.

Meanwhile, the need to train, hire and retain good teachers is growing, and Georgia Southern is helping to meet that need. “I spent 20-something years in special ed and then six as a special ed director in Wayne County, and knew the challenges that the field is facing,” said Harrell. “I also knew that I would like to do something for Georgia Southern because I had a good experience there.”

“I said to Dave that at some point I’d really like to look at somehow impacting this field. Honestly, these are the kids who need the powerful teachers and it’s not an easy field for longevity,” she said. “We need to encourage folks to stay the course. We were in a position where we could do something, and he supported me in that.”

Neither of Harrell’s parents finished high school. Her mother was a homemaker who would occasionally take on part-time jobs to help meet bills. Her father, who worked in sales for a railroad, wanted their daughters to be able to do what they loved and would often tell them to “find your passion and do what you love,” said Harrell.

When it came time for her to attend college, she took out an education loan. When she was done, her father took it upon himself to repay the loan – an expression of parental love she has never forgotten. “When it came time to pay that back, my dad told me he wanted to take care of it because it was important for him to do that for his baby,” Harrell said.

The choice to name the scholarship after her parents was Dave’s idea. “My mom and dad were a team and missed hitting their 50th anniversary just by a few months. They were so adamant that my sisters and I fulfill our dreams and they made sure we had the opportunity for an education that they didn’t have,” she said. “They both worked very hard at making sure we had the opportunity, so to continue that in their names is something I felt like I wanted to do.”

David Thompson

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