Teaching with true inclusivity

Sharona Horton and daughter Lily

Sharona Horton may be a student at UW Bothell, but she already has seven years of experience working as a special-needs paraeducator in public schools. When she graduates next year with a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies and with the elementary education option, you might guess that becoming a special-education teacher would be her goal. You would guess wrong.

“I have a passion for teaching those children,” Horton said, “but I want to teach them in a general-education setting, rather than a separate, special-education setting.”

Horton, who also is seeking the English language learners endorsement, hopes to teach first-graders because “emerging literacy is my deep passion.” She expects to face a room of 6- or 7-year-olds who might include a few special-needs students and a few English-language learners.

“When I get my own classroom, I want to be welcoming to all of my students,” she said. “I want my special-needs students to feel like they’re part of our community. I want my ELL students to feel valued, feel appreciated and have their voices heard. I do not want to just be a gen-ed teacher that they only see for an hour or two a day.”

True inclusivity

Inclusion means a lot to Horton. She has two children, a 3-year-old daughter who is “quite a handful right now” and a 17-year-old son with special needs.

“I’ve been on the parenting side of it, watching how sometimes he wasn’t really included in a lot of his education,” she said. “I’m hoping that will make me a more inclusive teacher.”

Horton chose the School of Educational Studies at UW Bothell because she had friends who graduated from the program, lauded its focus on inclusion and loved the teachers. Even so, when she transferred from Edmonds College, she was nervous about fitting in as an older student.

Happily, she said, she found an accepting cohort of students who lean on each other for support and a dedicated faculty. Assistant Professor Yue Bian was one mentor in particular who “really lit the fire in me to include my second-language students and reshaped how I look at education,” Horton said.

Amazing, world-changing

Other incoming students who might be as nervous as she was should know they’ll find similar support, Horton said.

“It’s not nearly as bad as you think it’s going to be. Take a deep breath, let those friends come in and let that support happen,” she said. “Embrace it for what it is and enjoy the ride. There are some really amazing resources here. Know to tap into that.”

Horton tapped into UW Bothell’s Office of Community-Based Learning & Research to work with an English as a second language program at a local elementary school. She brought ideas from her professors to support those students learning English and math.

For all her work inside and outside the classroom, Horton was recognized this last academic year as one of the Husky 100, students from across all three UW campuses honored for making the most of their UW education. She felt humbled to be selected, especially when she met the other 99 students by teleconference.

“There are some awesome, world-changing people in the Husky 100,” she said. “There are people who are already changing the world, and I’m excited to be part of that.”

“My goal is to become a truly inclusive teacher. My time at UW Bothell has really helped me not only give a definition to what that meant, but grow my understanding of the needs for inclusion, as well as give me the tools to actually make that goal a reality.”

Experience for an educator

When the coronavirus pandemic forced in-person classes to suddenly go remote last spring, “the teachers just pulled it out and rocked it. They showed kindness and compassion during very socially troubling times,” she said. “They made a curriculum that still worked for the program. We still got what we needed out of our lessons.

The only thing that was missing was the camaraderie with other students in the cohort. “Everybody wants to be a great teacher, and I love being a part of that.”

Now she’s looking forward to completing her student teaching this fall and winter and finishing her ELL certification next spring. She will be graduating from UW Bothell in 2021 at the same time her son graduates from high school.

Each year, the University of Washington selects 100 students who are making the most of their Husky experience. Thirteen UW Bothell students were recognized as part of the Husky 100 Class of 2020. What’s special about a Husky 100 recipient? They dare to do. They use what they learn inside and outside the classroom to grow personally and to create change in their communities.

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