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Cedar Ridge special education teacher reflects on 50 years of empowering students

By Curtis Booker - | May 24, 2024
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Kay Beck, a life skills teacher at Cedar Ridge Elementary School, poses for a photo with Principal Carl Stubbs on April 22, 2024.
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A plaque highlighting Kay Beck's journey of 50 years in teaching is displayed during a celebration honoring the special education teacher April 22, 2024.
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A banner highlighting Kay Beck's 50 years in teaching is displayed during a celebration honoring the special education teacher April 22, 2024.

As another school year wraps, one special education teacher in Cedar Hills is reflecting on a journey of half a century in empowering students to be their best selves.

Kay Beck teaches life skills for grades 1-6 at Cedar Ridge Elementary School.

Her classroom is filled with hard-working kids who she doesn’t consider to have disabilities. Rather, she sees them as students with the right to an equitable education without bias.

Beck began her career as an educator in 1973, when school administrators, she says, weren’t confident in educating kids with special needs. “Basically, your curriculum at that time was, ‘Well, we’ll try to teach them their colors, and how to write their names.’ It was basically a recreation program,” Beck described.

Refusing to “institutionalize” her students, Beck chose to recognize them for their individual qualities, while encouraging their growth to fulfill their achievements.

Over time, she’s witnessed special education evolve to inclusive classrooms for all ages.

But she admits, more can be done to empower students with special needs. “One thing that I think really needs to be pushed more in special ed is that you teach a skill, then after a child’s learned his skill … the next step you go for is generalization. Because if you don’t go for generalization, that’s going to be a splinter skill,” she explained.

Those are skills that are generally disconnected from their usual context and may not be suitable in a real-world situation, Beck explained.

Parents like Yolanda DuJardin champion Beck’s teaching methods, her dedication to students and the school community.

DuJardin’s daughter has been a student of Beck’s since the first grade. Something that was important to her as a parent was making sure her child would be included in activities with students in the general education population, “and Kay does that so well,” DuJardin said. “She has really done a wonderful job of making sure that all of her kids eat lunch with the other students and included in field trips. So I’ve been really pleased with that.”

DuJardin says her daughter has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair but is very social and loves making friends. This was her final year in Beck’s class and DuJardin says she has thrived at Cedar Ridge, to which she credits Beck for preparing her daughter for the next stage of education.

“She pours everything into these kids. Like, her whole life has been centered around teaching,” DuJardin explained to the Daily Herald.

In April, administrators, fellow teachers and parents honored Beck’s legacy at an open house celebration at the elementary school. In a surprise parade, students wore purple shirts featuring her favorite quote: “Never give up.”

When asked why Beck adores the color purple, she said, “Well, purple is the representation of royalty. And then you put ‘never give up’ on it — man, what a powerful inspiration that shirt is,” she told the Daily Herald.

Beck said she doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon and will continue to advocate for more dialogue on the quality of special education classes.

She wants her legacy to be one that’s marked by helping each of her students realize their full potential. “Their life mattered a great deal to me. I wanted to make sure that they had the skills so that they could make the best life possible moving forward,” an emotional Beck expressed.


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