HANCOCK COUNTY — Essential skills students need an educator who is willing to go above and beyond. That describes New Palestine Junior High School teacher Erin Amones, district officials say.
For the past 17 years, she’s been an educator — 15 of those for the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County, where she’s helped create a positive learning environment for students who have specific challenges.
School and district officials recently acknowledged the work and responsibility Amones has taken on over the past six years, re-establishing their essential skills program after the county’s joint services disbanded.
Amones was named the Teacher of the Year at NPJHS and also across the whole Southern Hancock school district during the recent, year-end appreciation awards ceremony.
“I was totally surprised,” Amones said. “I had no idea that was coming.”
It’s the first time Amones has earned the honor at her school or district-wide. She noted winning the award means so much because there are so many great educators in the school district.
“I’m happy for all of our kids and people, like our assistant Steven Bales and others who are part of the program,” Amones said.
For Amones — a mother, wife and educator — it’s all about looking out for others and making sure students of all skills are challenged and welcomed into the classroom and the world.
She and the essential needs students are part of the Essential People in the Community, or EPIC, program at NPJHS.
Amones has worked hard to acclimate the students into the general education classrooms and has even recruited general education students to be their buddies. The buddies make sure students with essential skills feel at home in their school.
This year, dozens of general education students have volunteered to come into the essential skills room and work with the students, teaching all the students about the importance of accepting everyone and working together.
“We’ve only had this program back here for about six years, but so many people have helped and welcomed us with open arms,” Amones said.
Some of the students identified as “buddies” have even developed new friendships with the essential skills students to help look after them on their own time during the weekends.
One of Amones’ biggest challenges is working with each of her essential skills students who all have different individual needs. The goal is to make sure those students not only feel included, but thrive in the classroom.
“We have a great team that runs this program, and I can’t say enough about Steven,” Amones said. “It takes many people to pull this off.”
Amones said she loves being a teacher and feels working with students identified as essential skills kids is the reason she was put on earth.
Still, Amones says she could not do her work without such a great supporting staff.
“Honestly, anytime I ask my general education teachers if we can come into their classrooms, they welcome us with open arms and help us make modifications to help the students,” Amones said. “They’re always willing to meet the needs of our kids.”
Amones noted her students don’t stay in one room all day but go out into other school rooms for classes like science, social studies and unified arts. They venture into other areas of the school just like general education students.
“We have high expectations, and the leadership at the school is there for us,” Amones said.
Amones works with students from sixth through ninth grade at NPJHS before they are sent to New Palestine High School, where they’re allowed to stay until they’re 22 years old.