MERIDIAN, Miss.—Though Courtney Garrett never planned to teach special education, the 25-year-old wife and mother is receiving a bachelor’s degree in the major during Mississippi State University-Meridian’s fall commencement.
She is among some 90 degree candidates scheduled to walk across the stage during the 11 a.m. graduation ceremony Friday [Dec. 11] at the MSU Riley Center.
In early 2012, Garrett had begun working on an elementary education degree. In the fall semester of the following year, she was hired as a teacher assistant at Northeast Elementary School in Lauderdale County.
After six months in teacher Karen Pace’s self-contained classroom for severe and profound special-needs students, Garrett said she came to realize her true calling and switched majors to special education. Just a few months later, she and husband Matthew celebrated the birth of a daughter.
“When Kemper-Jane was born, we discovered she has CHARGE syndrome with autistic behaviors,” Garrett said, adding that the child is both legally blind and deaf.
“I don’t think anyone is ever prepared to deal with the challenges of a special-needs child, but, I didn’t ‘freak’ out when she was born,” she emphasized.
“I believe my daughter was put with me for a reason and, since I not only had some experience but also truly loved working with special-needs children, it wasn’t as overwhelming as it might have been,” she added.
After having changed majors, Garrett returned as a student intern in her former classroom at Northeast Elementary. She then was transferred to Northeast High School to work alongside inclusion teacher Beth Garrison.
Looking back, she said those first four weeks at Northeast High were rough. “It was so different from anything I’ve ever dealt with that I honestly just wanted my rotation over,” Garrett admitted.
As time passed, however, she came to appreciate how inclusion work at the high school level can be quite rewarding, so much so “it has really grown on me.” As clear proof of her transformation, Garrett said she will fill an opening as an inclusion teacher at Forest High School in January.
“Many of the students I’ve worked with haven’t always had someone in their corner they can count on,” she explained. “I know first-hand how important it is when you have educators that encourage and help you. I experienced that from the first minute I stepped on campus at MSU-Meridian.”
Beyond beginning a new career at Forest High, Garrett said she looks forward to learning as much as possible about the field she has chosen.
“Every day I walk out of the classroom, I’ve learned something new,” she said. “The neat thing is, a lot of times it’s the students that teach me.”
As Garrett closed out her final days as a student intern, she shared a few of what she considered the most important lessons learned while in training at MSU-Meridian.
“Don’t assume you know what’s going on with the children in your classroom; don’t judge them before you get to know them; and most of all, have faith in them,” Garrett said. “They can often do more than you would ever dream possible.”
For more about MSU-Meridian, visit www.meridian.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
MSU PHOTO ID: Special education student Courtney Garrett takes a break at Northeast High School, where she is finishing up her student internship. Garrett is one of 90 students who will receive their diploma at MSU-Meridian’s commencement exercises Friday [Dec 11] at MSU Riley Center.