RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Sarah Dooley Center for Autism at St. Josephs Villa serves children who are sometimes turned away from their local school districts.
Passionate teachers like Michelle Hughey are on the frontlines, giving them one-on-one attention and reinforcing positive habits.
She’s one of the reasons why these kids are showing so much promise and why she’s this month’s “Excellence in Education” award winner. She was surprised with the award during gym class.
“I started this job thinking that it would only be something I do during the summer time," she said.
But after graduating from Virginia State University in 2005, Hughey decided to stick with it.
“I realized pretty quickly that I was very hands on and I wanted to remain hands on,” she said. “It just gives me a drive in terms of helping then accomplish things that we take for granted on a daily basis.”
The goal is to equip these students with the behavioral and social skills necessary, to blossom in the world we live in, not to single them out and create a separate environment.
Hughey and other teachers will take the students out into the community to make purchases, have dinner in public, sit through a church service, interact with animals and even participate in gym class.
In the gym, there was music in the background, kids playing basketball, baseball, and just having fun.
That seems pretty standard, but this is a huge accomplishment for these students with autism, who have varying degrees of sensitivity to loud noises.
Hughey is a valuable part of the success seen here at the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism, and Director Adam Dreyfus wouldn't have it any other way.
"Michelle has a calmness about her, almost like a peacefulness that is almost contagious. These kids are sensitive to anxiety and people getting upset and she just keeps an air of calm around her that is infectious."
And as long as her students need her, Michelle Hughey will be there.
“When they graduate from school, they will be placed in an environment with not as much support that they have here at school. The more independence that we introduce, the better they will be when they graduate.”
Excellence in Education is sponsored by the Henrico Federal Credit Union.