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Carolina Gamelo and Robin Wurst . Photos by LCGross.

Spirit of Education: Specialists Carolina Gamelo and Robin Wurst

“First, they are children. With all the needs of every child,” says Carolina Gamelo. “If you get that, then you can teach them.” 

That’s the most important thing to know about any child, “no matter how incapacitated,” according to Carolina. She taught students with special needs for over 40 years, three decades with the hearing-impaired.

“If a child is not learning, look at what you’re doing or not doing,” says Robin Wurst, retired speech pathologist and special education teacher.

Robin learned the nature of presentation while still in school, and the need for “practice, practice, practice” in her 18 years as Speech Pathologist for the Globe school district.

Carolina and Robin are two of the people who pioneered the public effort to provide education to children with special needs. While specialists in their respective, related fields, each capped their hardworking careers as preschool teachers.

Preschool Special Education

“There is no hidden agenda,” Carolina explains. What she loves about preschoolers is, “They say what they think.”

It’s been law since 1975 that children with disabilities have access to public education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) updated the law and put increased focus on, among other things, early intervention. Services were to be provided to preschoolers with language delays.

“We had nothing,” Carolina remembers the first special ed preschool class. “We had boxes to play with, and we made houses and stuff: The kids loved it.” 

With the help of a “kind lady” at the state department, Carolina secured a federal grant. More and more kids were identified as delayed, and in 2005, a second class was added. Robin became a full-time preschool teacher. 

The role of the teacher, as she sees it, is to provide experiences and create environments where the children can discover what they need to learn.

“A preschooler is not going to learn that yellow and red make orange by me telling them,” explains Robin, “they learn it by mixing playdough or paint.” 

Delays in language development have huge impact on educational progress. To enhance language development, Carolina included physical activities in her classrooms, alternating between active lessons and sit-down work. 

“You cannot exceed their capacity to focus,” she emphasizes. 

The Callings

Carolina Gamelo, Teacher of the Hearing Impaired

“I had never heard of teaching the deaf,” says Carolina. 

She grew up in the Philippines and came to the U.S. for college. After earning a B.A. in architecture, a friend told her about opportunities to teach the deaf. 

With the promise of free tuition, Carolina went to Omaha on “the best bus ride I ever had in my entire life,” and got her master’s degree in Hearing Impairment at the University of Nebraska. 

At her first job, in Duluth, Minnesota, she taught hearing-impaired kids, ages 5-8, in the public schools. The program was far ahead of the rest of the country. Sign language was not accepted at the time. All instructions were oral. 

“I did a lot of gestures,” she said. “And a lot of drawing.”

In Pennsylvania, she helped start a county program, affiliated with the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, and housed in the public schools. 

“It was a wonderful program,” says Carolina. 

She followed her first students through graduation and helped them get jobs. She remembers the students and parents well. The Eastern Europeans. The Amish. The mother who was so concerned about Carolina’s Phillipino accent.

“It would not matter,” Carolina assured her. 

After 12 years, she moved to California, for a change. Turned off by credentialing requirements, she took some time off. In 1980, responding to a newspaper ad, she was hired by Gila County as Teacher of the Hearing-Impaired and held the position for 18 years, until her first retirement at age 62. 

When a boy with severe emotional and behavioral issues needed attention, Carolina volunteered. He waved a big stick. She did not flinch. Every day she walked with him on Round Mountain. 

“All the way to the top,” recalls Carolina on how she taught him about the directions, plants and numbers. “Making up songs every day.“ 

Carolina went back to teaching full-time and retired again in 2009 at age 72. 

“If you really respect them, they give it back tenfold,” she says, of students. “That’s the best part of teaching.” 

Robin Wurst, Speech Pathologist

Robin earned her B.S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology in 1977, and set it aside for 10 years. In 1987, now living in Globe, she got a call from the school district. They needed a speech pathologist and heard she was qualified. She updated her certifications and went to work. 

Robin spent half her day as special ed preschool teacher, and the other half as speech pathologist for all speech-impaired students in the district. She continued to take courses and in 2003, completed a M.A. in Early Elementary Education.

“It’s a great combo,” says Carolina, of Robin’s credentials, “speech and early elementary education.”

In speech therapy, Robin focused on language kids needed to be successful in the classroom. Overcoming articulation issues, Robin says, requires repetition; she aimed to make it fun.

“I used to joke that I’d go to work and play games all day.” she says. 

“We had freedom,” says Carolina. “Now It’s so restrictive. You can’t do what you think is right for the child.“

Robin concurs. She retired in 2011 after 21 years with the district and a few more with HeadStart. 

“The more the government got into it, the more they told you how you had to do it, not just that you needed to do it,” Robin explains. “And not just in special education. All of it.”

Carolina, 83 this September, walks her dog every day and likes to split wood. She spends her volunteer time with the elderly now, but still speaks about public education with passion, and calls current-day teachers and administrators to consider more options.

“Be innovative,” she says. “Don’t be stuck on one square.”

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