Camelot Education Recognizes Outstanding Staff of the Year Recipients from its Therapeutic Day Schools across Illinois
Seven teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff across Camelot Education’s schools in Illinois were recognized for their ongoing passion and commitment to helping students realize their full learning potential. Camelot honors these educators with Staff Member of the Year awards for their respective school.
Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere: Stacy Jennings
Last school year, Stacy Jennings stepped up into a role she did not anticipate: long-term substitute teaching. At the beginning of the year, Jennings expected to serve her students as a teacher’s aide and occasional substitute at Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Belvidere. However, when a teacher left in October, Belvidere turned to Jennings to serve as a long-term substitute for the remainder of the school year.
Teaching a classroom of her own, Jennings was able to make even more of a difference for her students.
“The way she adapted to being in charge so quickly was incredible,” said Executive Director Heather Nelson. “Her students didn’t miss a beat. Stacy is just an amazing person and has a true heart for Camelot and our students.”
Jennings loved every minute of it.
“Filling the role as the full-time substitute teacher leading the classroom was awesome,” Jennings said. “I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to teach a group of students for almost the entire year.”
Jennings enjoyed it so much that she plans to pursue a master’s degree that will allow her to work as a teacher and permanently lead a classroom of her own.
“Camelot is a great atmosphere for kids that don’t otherwise get chances,” Jennings said. “It’s a great place for kids to come and see that we care about them.”
Camelot of the Quad Cities: Tiffany Piehl
When Camelot of the Quad Cities needed a vocational coach, they knew exactly who to ask to fill the role.
“We basically sought Tiffany out for that position,” said Executive Director Kristie Loy. “She demonstrated all of the qualities that supported our school’s philosophies. She is kind, empathetic, understanding, compassionate, and positive.”
Piehl’s role is to help students discover their interests and connect them to job opportunities in their community. To do this, she invests the time necessary to develop a one-on-one relationship and a trust with each of her students.
“When you develop a relationship and trust, there is so much social, emotional and educational learning that can take place,” Piehl said.
The COVID-19 pandemic challenged Piehl’s work in new ways, but she did not let the changes stop her from connecting with students. Since each student had differences in their comfort level with new modes of distance learning, Piehl knew she would need to get creative.
“I wrote letters to my kids and would include an addressed envelope with a paper that said ‘Dear Ms. Tiffany’. I received a lot of responses because my students wanted to continue to connect.”
Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Hoffman Estates: Elizabeth Kaya
For the staff at Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Hoffman Estates, the focus is teamwork. Every staff member looks out for one another, and students see a model of interpersonal relationships where they can learn.
Staff Member of the Year, Elizabeth Kaya, is grateful to be part of it. “I work for a fantastic team. I can’t ask for more. They are so supportive. We are family and that means a lot.”
Kaya was selected for the award through her work as a paraprofessional, providing students with a great sense of security.
“I think the students can tell she always has their best interests in mind,” said Executive Director Jennifer Burke. “Based on each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), she offers a variety of support, strategies, and activities.”
Kaya also provides bilingual support to students who need it. This year, the student she primarily worked with knew he could always connect with his classmates because she was there to translate for him.
“Elizabeth is also beloved by the families whose children she works with at school,” Burke said. “This year during teacher appreciation week, one family sent her a handmade picture to demonstrate how much they cared for and supported her.”
Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Mount Prospect: James Kalousek
Time and time again, when Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Mount Prospect needed James Kalousek to step up and lead, he seized the moment.
Before the winter holiday break, Kalousek was asked to serve as team lead of the school’s 23 paraprofessionals. The support role made sense to Kalousek, a former baseball coach with several teachers in his extended family.
Each day, he supports teachers and students in several classrooms and regularly connects with parents to provide updates. Kalousek’s understanding of his students gives him the perspective necessary to help resolve any issues.
“The biggest thing is patience and flexibility,” Kalousek says. “Oftentimes, kids who are not immediately responsive in difficult situations are just processing what you are asking. You have to give kids time to process your voice and your words.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the school building, Mount Prospect needed a trusted staff member to lead its campus’s operations. Kalousek was called upon to lead once more.
“He stood out as a leader and continued to lead regardless of the challenges that we face,” said Executive Director Theodore Hickman. “We needed someone in charge of operations, including the mechanics of checking in on everyone to ensure students and staff are safe. He has the ability to earn the trust of others and be a leader at all times.”
Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Naperville: Maureen Taylor
Therapists play one of the most important roles at schools like Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Naperville by working to support students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive well-being. Naperville therapist Maureen Taylor’s passion, kindness and clinical skills earned her the Staff Member of the Year award this year.
“There is a clear mutual respect between Maureen and all of the students in the school,” said Camelot of Naperville’s Clinical Director, Chasta Moore. “She advocates for all students and assures that they receive the empathy, support, and dignity they are entitled. Maureen truly and sincerely cares about all students, their families, and her colleagues.”
In working at Camelot of Naperville, Taylor has found an environment that allows her to make a difference in young people’s lives.
“The Camelot education program has an organic way of instilling strong values in students and staff,” Taylor said. “We implement positive behavioral norms and set meaningful expectations.”
Taylor credits Camelot for shaping her career as a clinician. “Just being myself is really beneficial in working with individuals. Being able to see their growth, progress and change over time is really rewarding.”
Camelot Northwest Center for Autism: Molly Jasper
As a Vocational and Life Skills teacher at Camelot Northwest Center for Autism, Molly Jasper uses a unique approach that helps her students grow.
Jasper’s role is to support 16- to 22-year-old students with autism, multiple disabilities, emotional disabilities, and other health impairments to gain skills to transition from school into the workforce. She focuses on maximizing student participation.
“Molly wants her students to be active members of her classroom,” says Executive Director Niamh Welp. “She is caring, compassionate, and willing to challenge kids. She challenges them to achieve in new ways and that’s what makes her a great teacher.”
Jasper particularly values the team approach utilized by Camelot staff.
“When I first toured the building, I was impressed with the uniform approach they take with all the therapists and the paraprofessionals,” Jasper said. “You can do so much good for kids when you have more people. It allows for more one-to-one time and more structured, personalized curriculum and behavior systems.”
Jasper was surprised to receive the Teacher of the Year award, expressing appreciation for her colleagues.
“I was shocked and so grateful because the award was voted by my colleagues,” Jasper said. “I respect them so much. It’s an amazing team at this school. You can call on any colleague and they will be there no matter what. It was an overwhelming feeling to have so many people I love and respect give me this honor.”
South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners: Raphael Smyly
Teaching assistant and paraprofessional, Raphael Smyly, asks his South Suburban Center for Exceptional Learners colleagues this same question every day.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“In a heartbeat, he will go to wherever you need him,” says Executive Director Allison Watford. “With Mr. Smyly, there is never a single complaint. He does everything with a joyful interaction.”
In addition to working as a teacher assistant and paraprofessional, Smyly is trained in therapeutic crisis intervention, coordinates the school’s daily check-in and check-out system, and serves on the school’s COVID-19 committee.
“I believe in hard work, coming in and doing what you’re supposed to do,” said Smyly, who is honored to receive the Staff Member of the Year award.
“I am loyal to the students and staff at Camelot. I appreciate this honor and it is not something I take lightly. This type of recognition comes with a lot of responsibility and a higher standard that I have set for myself.”
Smyly’s main focus is establishing strong relationships with the students. According to Smyly, developing trust helps students receive the lessons you are teaching them and they can positively react to you.
Camelot’s Therapeutic Day School programs offer a therapeutic setting for students, ages 3-21, who require additional support for acute handicapping conditions such as severe, profound,
and low-incidence disabilities. These TDS programs offer an advanced level of therapeutic services that address the multiple developmental needs of each child’s cognitive ability, behavioral
needs, learning style, and interests by offering comprehensive services such as:
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA Therapy)
- PECS/augmentative communication
- Adaptive physical education
- PEAK Relational Training System
- Vocational training, functional academics curriculum, and community-based learning
- Speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other wrap-around services that a student’s IEP may prescribe
- Social-emotional supportive classrooms
- Camelot’s TDS programs also adhere to teaching a life-skills curriculum to students and families which provides instruction on communication, daily living tasks, safety, housing, community resources, money management, self-care, behavior management, social development, vocational, work, and study skills which provide tools and skills for their lives outside of school.