Wendy Dove puts her heart and soul into teaching the Madras High School transition program.

“I love being here. I love every minute of it and I’m excited to come to work everyday,” Dove said.

Dove didn’t know that teaching students with special needs was her calling. She had been a mainstream teacher in nearby Culver School District for 10 years. In 2012 when an unexpected vacancy opened up just a few weeks before school began, she was asked to step in and be the special education teacher.

Dove accepted the position, believing it would be a short-term assignment and she would only need to take a “few” classes.

“I wasn’t sure I would be satisfied teaching basic life skills,” she explained. “But I found the opposite to be true. I felt I was really helping these kids and it is immensely fulfilling. I don’t think I could ever give it up.”

Dove soon enrolled in a two-year program to get her special education certification and just recently completed her master’s in educational leadership and administration. When the position opened up in 2015 at Madras High School, she jumped at the chance to take it.

Encouraging independence

Along with educational assistant, bus driver and meal coordinator Kim Urbach, educational assistant Dan Peterson and speech assistant Andrea Galloway, Dove teaches her students the life skills essential to making that successful transition into adulthood, independent living and employment.

“We feel it’s really important to encourage students to do things on their own and not do it for them,” Dove said. “Lately we have been cooking breakfasts (pancakes, poached eggs on toast, breakfast burritos, etc.). First we watch a cooking video, then an adult or two will demonstrate the cooking technique. After that, we let the students try their hand at it. Often times the greatest learning will come from their mistakes. We expect mistakes, we all make them, we just hope they learn. If it doesn’t turn out right, not a problem, try it again. It’s okay to make a mess in our room, we learn to clean it up.”

Feels like home

Students thrive in her program’s nurturing and supportive atmosphere. She has created a living room setting in the classroom by adding couches, comfy chairs and a dining area where they can all sit together as a family. According to Dove, it’s important to have this comfortable place to discuss difficult or uncomfortable topics.

To help students improve their fine motor skills, Dove recently switched from making birdhouses to Christmas ornaments and other projects that strengthened their manual dexterity.

“This is the place they get to do all the things they don’t get to do at home because maybe its too messy or it takes extra time,” she explained.

Her students recently made Christmas cookies, and to build social skills, cooked, hosted and served a Thanksgiving dinner for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – 34 people in all. According to Dove, the students were very proud of this accomplishment, and so was she.

“I get so much out of working with these kids,” Dove explained. “This is where I’m meant to be.”