Stephanie DeMayo Ed.D
How did you get started working with people with disabilities?
I started working with the Comprehensive Learning Program at John Bassett Moore Intermediate School in Smyrna in 2007. Since then I worked as an instructional coach with the Adapting Curriculum and Classroom Environments for Student Success (ACCESS) project from 2010-2015. During this time, I had the opportunity to work across the state with educators, students and families on how to help students with disabilities access the general education curriculum through instructional strategies that are supported through a high quality Individual Education Plan. I also have been able to collaborate with many national special education leaders in best practices to increase the success of students with disabilities.
How long have you been involved in the Disability Community?
I have worked with the disability community for the past 13 years as an educator, but have been involved in disabilities since I have been in high school, working in my local elementary schools, religious schools and camps in Pennsylvania with children who have more intensive needs.
Where are you currently working and in what school district?
I currently work in the Brandywine School District as the Secondary Special Education Coordinator. I work with the curriculum department, administrators, and educators to facilitate implementation of best practices related to instruction, transition to adult life, and compliance to increase post secondary success of students with disabilities.
When did you become interested and advocating for individuals with disabilities?
After struggling through much of my elementary schooling, I was identified with a learning disability that significantly affected my reading and math skills. I struggled through most of my educational experience thinking I was not smart enough or good enough to learn. However I learned through self-determination that understanding my areas of need and advocating for my supports and highlighting my strengths and potential has been the key to my success. This self-realization has had such an impact on me that I always preach student potential. I work with teachers to help facilitate how to find this potential through instructional strategies that match their need and educating the student on how to do this as well.
Where did you go to college and what was your major? How did your major influence the work you do advocating for individuals with disabilities?
I went to Washing College a small liberal arts college on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where I majored in History, and earned a teaching certification in Social Studies. However, during my student teaching I ended up working heavily with the struggling students and students with disabilities, to help them be successful. After I graduated, I almost immediately began my graduate work at West Chester University in special education, knowing this was the area of education I was passionate about.
Are you involved with any associations, agencies or organizations that advocate for people with disabilities? If so, which ones?
I am currently part of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), and was the co-chair, of the Educators with Disabilities Caucus. I am also part of the CEC transition Division, Learning Disability Division, and Administrators of Special Education Division. Locally I am part of the New Castle County Transition Team in which the 6 districts in New Castle County come together to collaborate on best practices, as well as provide families with information, and training opportunities that relate to the transition of students with disabilities to adult life.
What have you learned from working with people with disabilities?
People, with disabilities can be underestimated for their abilities. What I have learned the most is that when we assume competence and give opportunities, people not only meet expectations but also truly surpass them.
Describe a situation where you encouraged someone to advocate for himself or herself?
As an educator, I have come across many students who needed encouragement and reassurance in their abilities. One specific student comes to mind. A young person who had a significant disability in reading was place in a class in where she did not belong. After many conversations about what she can do when she used her learned strategies and how to persevere through hardship, she was able to not only be in the appropriate placement but outshined students with out disabilities. She learned her potential and advocated for her supports and services to help with her success.
Can you describe some of the best methods to use when working with students/adults or child transitioning from school to work or college?
Helping students learn how to build relationships. One of the most valuable thing a student can learn is how to build relationships with others. When you do this you build those networks and opportunities for further success.
What are some barriers that transitioning youth encounter? What do you suggest to over come them?
I think the largest barrier youth encounter is the stigma that comes along with having a disability. I think the best way to overcome this is to educator. The more you can inform employers about the disability how it impacts you work and the supports you need, employers begin to learn instead of fear.
What were you biggest challenges and accomplishments while working with people with disabilities?
One the biggest challenges is a student's self-concept and esteem, and especially at the secondary level. Many student by this point often fear trying because of constant failure that may have endured.
My biggest accomplishment has been helping student and educators to see students potential. I often get the opportunity to work with educators on how to tap into the student potential and shape it into success.
What would you share with those with the same type of job that could inspire them?
As a coordinator I have the opportunity to work with educators and share successful research based instructional practices that help them improve the learning of students. Being able to share this knowledge, help with implementation, and see the success it bring is truly remarkable. I also believe that the collaborative nature of what I do helps me learn as well as other.