Contact: Lisa Sollie
(MERIDIAN) – Mariah Usry of Decatur has been chosen MSU-Meridian’s Outstanding Undergraduate student for the Division of Education.
A special education major, Usry is a high honor (cum laude) graduate and a member of Sigma Alpha Lambda, a national leadership and honors organization as well as an officer in Kappa Delta Pi (Upsilon Phi Chapter), an international honor society in education.
Even though she looked into other career fields once she graduated from Newton County High school, a writing assignment in eighth grade proved to determine Usry’s ultimate career choice.
“My English teacher asked us to write a paper on what we wanted to do after high school,” she said, “and I thought about the students in the special education classroom at my middle school and how when I’d see them at break, they always made my day. It seemed to me no matter what kind of day they were having, they always had a smile on their face, and they loved talking to people. That touched me and I felt a calling from the Lord that this is what I was supposed to do.”
As Usry went through high school, that ‘calling’ began to feel more like a pipe dream than reality, so she ended up pursuing other interests.
“I did try several different things while I was at East Central Community College, but it wasn’t until my last semester that I decided to go into special education and teaching,” she said. “It was really the only thing I was ever passionate about – the other things I tried I just couldn’t see myself doing it forever.”
Now in her final semester at MSU-Meridian, Usry has spent it as a student intern, first at Lake Elementary and then at the middle school. And although she always thought she would like to work in a self-contained environment and wasn’t very open to teaching inclusion/itinerant instruction, she’d gained a new appreciation for both through her practicum and internship placements.
“I remember one little boy I had the opportunity to work with in the pre-school self-contained classroom while doing my practicum at TJ Harris in the Meridian Public School District,” she said,” and he was learning how to zip up his jacket and improve on his fine motor skills. I worked with him continuously to master the task. One day it was like a lightbulb went off when he was finally able to do it for himself,” she said. “That small task was such a big accomplishment for him and very rewarding for me.”
When it came time for her student intern placements, however, Usry found herself in an inclusion setting; spending the first half of the semester in first through fourth grades, and then in seventh and eighth grades.
“In my first inclusion setting we had a student with autism,” she said, “and my mentor teacher and I spent a lot of one-on-one time working with him to reach his goals. One of his goals was to learn to count to 20 independently. Every time he would count, though, he would skip the number 15 and we couldn’t figure out why. My mentor then devised a very clever idea to try and help him remember. One of our coaches had a #15 jersey and we put a number line in the school hallway, and we numbered it one through twenty – but left out the number 15. We then walked the student out in the hall to the number line and asked him to count. And when he got to the number 15, the coach, wearing the #15 jersey, jumped out in the hall and said don’t forget about me! Now that little boy always refers to that coach as Coach 15 and, he doesn’t forget the number when he’s counting to twenty!”
Excited to graduate and confident she has the tools she needs, regardless of which setting she may find herself in, Usry knows she is doing what God called her to do.