On paper, Wendy Shugol does not present as a handicapped person. Who would imagine that someone who rides horses and swims at the championship level, in addition to having coached a high school swim team, displays a handicapped sticker on her vehicle? This is the same person who has taught students with physical disabilities in the prestigious Fairfax County public School system for 25 years, and in her spare time trains dogs and sells her ceramics at craft fairs. Don't let me forget to mention that she also performs with the City of Fairfax Band. Is Wendy Shugol handicapped in the truest sense of the word? I don't think so!
It was in the setting of Wendy's classroom that I learned to appreciate her contributions to all students. Picture a social studies class with five or six students whose physical disabilities range from mildly palsied students who can speak haltingly, to wheelchair bound students who rely on assistive devices to communicate basic needs and ideas. At the center is Wendy, in her wheelchair or a classroom chair with crutches resting nearby. Monroe, her new working dog, snoozes on a mat by her desk. The students are engaged in a learning experience that closely approximates that of their fully mobile peers. Wendy adapts and extends instruction with everything that she can get her hands on. She puts students on the computer to search the internet for useful information and key in lessons and projects. She walks them through large print and simplified versions of history and government texts to lay the foundation for higher level thinking. She encourages creativity by designing projects that appeal to her students' interests. She extends their learning by taking them outside the classroom to the library and on field trips. Wendy's students understand that she has high expectations for them and is willing to provide the necessary support for them to achieve.
Most important, Wendy Shugol is a positive role model for her students with physical disabilities as well as for all the others a Falls Church High School. Who better to show her PD students that anything is possible than Wendy? Not only does she talk the talk, but she walks the walk! And, what a wonderful message to other kids that Wendy does her hall duty like every other teacher, accompanied by everyone's best friend, Monroe. Her dogs have played such an important part in the establishment of a positive school climate, that each year their pictures appear in the yearbook, included alphabetically amidst their two-legged classmates. Wendy has also raised awareness about handicaps by training a group of PD kids to present candid panel discussions in regular education classrooms. What a rewarding experience for the panel participants as well as those students facing them. Wendy's connection with students over a 25 year career has stretched them, enriched them, and fulfilled them as they never could have dreamed.