Liberty Memorial Central special education teacher named Secondary Teacher of the Year

photo by: Rachel Asbury, Lawrence Public Schools/Contributed Photo

Julitha Rials, a special education teacher at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, is pictured with family members after she was named the Lawrence school district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year on April 5, 2019.

Story updated at 4:45 p.m. Friday, April 5:

Julitha Rials, a special education teacher at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, said she was happy to have her students with her when she was named the Lawrence school district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year on Friday.

Rials said she worked in “corporate America” for about 15 years, but when the company she worked for moved out of state, she saw the opportunity to transition into what she really wanted to do: teaching, and particularly teaching students with severe emotional disturbances.

So before she decided to pursue her master’s degree in education — which she received, and she’s now working on her doctorate in educational leadership — Rials became a paraeducator at Southwest Middle School. She held that job for seven years, then taught there for a short time before coming to LMCMS, where she’s in her seventh year teaching, according to the news release.

Rials said she saw a need for teachers who could “equip students to be their best.”

“She educates and advocates for all students in all ways, especially in areas of equity. She is very much dedicated to helping students by empowering them,” LMCMS Principal Jeff Harkin said in the release. “She is trusted by students. They continually seek her out for guidance, not to solve their problems, but to be heard and supported.”

Rials said she helps students speak up for themselves — “and then also working with the teacher on the back end, saying, ‘This student is going to come to you to talk about this’ — so kind of preparing that road for that student, as well as giving them that practice of being able to stand and advocate for themselves.”

Rials said that when a student is acting out, they’re trying to get something. She tries to teach her students how to use their voices rather than their emotions to get what they want.

She said the best part of the job comes when her students play educational games, seeing them put their social skills and sportsmanship to work.

Robert Durgan, a district autism and behavioral consultant, said in the release that Rials promotes learning by stimulating a student’s interest, “appreciating their diverse individual backgrounds and experiences, and accommodating their learning needs.”

Shakiyya Bland, district learning coach, said in the release that Rials shares resources with general education teachers to give them an understanding of her students’ individual needs.

In addition to the honor, Rials received a $1,000 check from Truity Credit Union.

She’ll also be nominated for the Kansas State Department of Education’s Kansas Teacher of the Year program, according to the release. The Region 2 award banquet for honorees will be Sept. 15 in Topeka.

On Thursday, Sunflower Elementary School music teacher and choir director Peter Gipson was named as the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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