That’s exactly what Norwalk High School intervention specialist Cari Beers has been doing for years. It’s also one of the reasons she was nominated by a long-time co-worker, Callie Baker, as the Norwalk teacher of the year.
“She is a humble person, but she’s always looking out for everybody and anybody,” said Baker, who has worked with Beers for 10 years. “She has been nominated by various people in the building for the last six years.”
Beers indeed is humble about being named this year’s teacher of the year by the Norwalk Teachers Association. She said she appreciates the honor, especially since “there are so many great teachers who do so many things.”
“It’s kinda overwhelming; it was unexpected,” she added, noting Baker has nominated her in the past. “It was an honor. … I do appreciate it.”
One of the ways Beers has reached students, whether they are in the special education program or not, is through Stomping Grounds, the NHS coffee shop where students volunteer their time. It is open 7 to 7:45 a.m. three days a week during the school year.
“I had an idea from a conference I went to and brought it (to NHS),” said Beers, who started Stomping Grounds with Baker. “She has been a big help.”
Beers said she envisioned the coffee shop as a way to develop special education students’ social skills and let them “be a part of something in school.”
“Our whole point was for them to be productive citizens,” she added. “Anybody can work at the coffee house; it’s not just special ed students.”
Baker said Stomping Grounds is one of the ways Beers connects with students outside of the classroom and during different parts of the day since the coffee shop is open before school starts.
“I think it’s done wonders. We have kids every year who want to be a part of it,” she added.
Also, Baker credits Beers for being involved in special education for “that long” (next year will be her 23rd year at NHS), especially since he handles students over four grade-levels.
“She brings humor to everybody and makes them laugh,” Baker said. “She has given them so many opportunities.”
Stomping Grounds also has turned into a venue where students can perform music, which Beers also has arranged.
“We’ve had ukulele players; we’ve had everything,” Baker said.
One of the elements Beers has stressed with running Stomping Grounds is having the students give back. They have used money from the coffee house to drop off Christmas gifts to a Norwalk family. Students also have made donations to organizations such as the Salvation Army and Ohio Veterans Home.
“Every week we give hundreds of dollars,” Beers said.
Beers has lived in Norwalk since 1994 with her husband, Brett, who has served the city for many years as a firefighter. They have a daughter, Lillie, who will be a junior at NHS.
A Danbury High School graduate, Beers earned her bachelor’s degree in education from The University Of Toledo. She has a master’s degree in curriculum from Bowling Green State University. Beers started her teaching career teaching at Otis Elementary School in Fremont for one year and has been at NHS for the last 22 years.
“I went into elementary education at first,” she said.
It was field-work experience at an inner-city preschool, which exposed her to special education. She didn’t look back and changed her major.
“I guess it was my calling; it really was,” Beers said.
Six years ago, Beers started the Lunch Bunch, a NHS student group which focuses on socialization skills. She remembered a quiet student who initially was reluctant to participate, but she saw him shine through his Lunch Bunch experience.
“As the year went on, he talked to everybody. He couldn’t wait to come to Lunch Bunch,” Beers said.
When asked what makes an effective intervention specialist, she said who is caring, “will listen to the kids” and wants to them to productive citizens.
Obviously, the students have listened to her too. There have been many who have invited her to their baby showers or made sure another teacher says “hi to Mrs. Beers since I don’t see her much anymore.”
“Now I have their kids in my classes,” she said.
Recently Beers received a random Facebook message from a former student who expressed how much she had done for him or her. Beers said that meant a lot to her.
“For a teacher, that’s a big thank-you.”