COLUMBUS, Ohio — Their children have been out of her classroom for years, but when Elaine Hamilton and Maria Angel had the chance to honor one of their favorite teachers, they jumped at the chance.
“As parents of children with special needs, we’re often always on guard and worried about how their behaviors will affect the classroom, will their teachers understand, will the teacher accept them, how will things go,” Angel said. “I think from the first, beginning the first day, Miss Lori, nothing threw her off, nothing was unknown to her, and she loved our kids anyway.”
Miss Lori is Lori Smith, a special education teleteacher with Vocovision. For years before that, however, she worked in Columbus City Schools.
And that’s where she met Hamilton’s daughter, Maliyah, and Angel’s son, Kasey.
“We know that they’re hard and difficult,” Angel said of children with special needs. “We’re living with them, but then to have that teacher who, it doesn’t matter, she’s there for them, she’s there for us as a family as well, means the world, and we just can’t even probably put it in words how much it means.”
For Elaine Hamilton, Miss Lori helped to lead her family on the path to an autism diagnosis for her daughter. And, for that, she’s grateful.
“She goes beyond the classroom,” Hamilton said. “She will search out supports for families. She even spends money out of her own pocket going to Target, filling up her classroom so she can have all the manipulatives, positive reinforcement tools that she’ll need to support the kids during the entire school year. I don’t think she realizes what an impact she’s had on our lives, to be honest.”
Smith has not doubt had a similar impact on countless students during her 31 years in education.
“Once a child’s in my classroom, and I’ve built that relationship, that they’re mine,” she said. “Forever.”
While Smith misses her classroom, Smith has found a way to thrive while teaching virtually. She’s been doing that since March 2020. And her focus is on children with special needs.
“I just found a passion in my heart for those kids that needed that extra little bit of care and attention, and I’ve never looked back,” she said. “So most of my career has been with students with a range of disabilities.”
And many of those students are now thriving, including Kasey and Maliyah, now 15 and nearly 20, respectively.
“Any time that we know that our students have been successful or that we’ve made an impact on a family in some small way, ah, it just gives me, it’s so worth it,” she said. “These kids have been the blessing, and the families have been the blessing, of my life.”