Selfie of two women in sunglasses

Two Ryan Park Teachers, Julie Culver-Smith and Julie Witherspoon, are recognized by Puiblic Consulting Group for their work in Inclusive Practices and Project Success! Read more below!

Co-teachers, Julie Witherspoon and Julie Culver-Smith (aka Juliex2) from Ryan Park Elementary School at the MSD of Steuben County Schools in Angola, Indiana.

Please tell us a little bit about your background.

I am Julie Culver-Smith. I have been teaching/celebrating students with significant disabilities for over 29 years and I celebrate every day because I find something worth blowing out the candles! The past four years of co-teaching with Julie have been the icing on my cake, a dream that was set into motion when I was student teaching! We tell ourselves every day we are doing great things for our kids!

I am Julie Witherspoon. This is my 24th year teaching. I started my career teaching high school students with moderate disabilities and have now taught 1st grade for the last 21. Prior to that, I worked at a preschool program for students with disabilities. Julie and I have been colleagues for 22 years. We have been co-teaching and doing inclusion with applied skills students for the last five years. It has been incredibly rewarding!

What do you like best about coaching?

We enjoy connecting with other educators from around the country. By coaching others, we are collaborating with educators drawing on our experiences as well as theirs in the classroom. Coaching is making us more diverse and stronger in all children's lives.

We chose to keep our Playbook team together for coaching. Our reason is that we like to banter with each other and what one doesn't think of the other does. We are better together! We bring to the table a unique opportunity because we represent both general education and special education as well as how inclusion has evolved—from our early teaching years in segregated facilities, to self-contained classrooms, to buddy classrooms, to full inclusive classrooms. We find ourselves drawing on all of our experiences to give a more well-rounded perspective.

Can you share any advice for novice special education teachers?

The advice we would love to share is learn to laugh, celebrate, fail, and thrive! Each layer of this cake will allow you to add the icing on it and to blow out your own candles.

How has your collaboration with Project Success impacted your teaching?

Our first introduction to Project Success came when we were talking and laughing while we discussed information we were learning in a Paula Kluth seminar. Little did we know that Ashley Quick was sitting beside us. During a break, she approached us, and our immediate thought was, oh no, we were probably too disruptive. Low and behold, she was interested in our excitement and passion for inclusive practices. We were then invited to join the teacher/leader cohort in 2020. We were introduced to Playbook and joined the live sessions on Zoom. It took some getting used to the platform on Playbook, but there was a wealth of knowledge and resources available. I will say, at times, we still struggle a bit with Playbook, but it is becoming easier the more we interact with it. It stores all your plays and needs assessment, and it is nice to go back and review those things from time to time. Our teacher/leader sessions fueled our fire and left us wanting more!

We did then and we continue now to take every opportunity to grow our program and ourselves, changing the face of inclusion.