Woodstock resident Serena Wunderlich, an Ulster BOCES Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, is a recipient of the 2018 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the SUNY New Paltz School of Education.
The SUNY New Paltz School of Education established the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1984 to recognize outstanding teachers in the Mid-Hudson Valley. This year’s winners will be honored at the Mid-Hudson School Study Council Award for Excellence event, to be held on October 18 at Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor.
During her 26 years of teaching, Ms. Wunderlich has taught children in every school district across Ulster County, usually working with them in their home schools. “My job as a Teacher of the Deaf is to meet my students’ very unique academic and hearing needs so that they can participate in their community and learn regardless of the level of their hearing loss,” she explained. This year, she is working with students in the Saugerties, Rondout, and Kingston school districts.
Ms. Wunderlich, who has worked with children as young as Kindergarteners and as old as 21, points out that the needs of her students vary greatly. “A student with a mild hearing loss may only need hearing services to help manage their FM equipment to help them hear their teacher in the classroom,” she noted, referring to technology that allows signals from the instructor’s microphone and transmitter to be sent to the student’s hearing aid or cochlear implant.
“A child with a much more significant loss,” she added, “may need instruction and pre-teaching of materials or may need to be taught in sign language so that they can access information in an entirely different mode of communication.”
Advocacy is another important aspect of Ms. Wunderlich’s job. “With all of my students, I get to teach them about their hearing loss and how to advocate for their hearing needs in their world,” she said. “I help to empower them and show them that they are exceptional just the way they are.”
The award came as no surprise to Dr. Charles V. Khoury, District Superintendent of Ulster BOCES. “Serena is an outstanding teacher who cares deeply about each of her students,” he said. “You can see the joy and excitement in their eyes when they work with her. We are truly blessed to have her on the Ulster BOCES teaching faculty. This recognition is overdue and well deserved.”
In her nominating letter, Dr. Carleen Meers, the former Director of Special & Alternative Education at Ulster BOCES, praised Ms. Wunderlich’s positive effects upon her students. “If a new student ever comes into her lesson hesitant, she quickly establishes an easy rapport and easily engages them in the lesson for the day,” she wrote. “They would almost always leave with renewed positive self-awareness and energy.”
Another Ulster BOCES administrator, Howard Korn, praised Ms. Wunderlich’s willingness to mentor other teachers. “Ms. Wunderlich is the ‘expert of experts’ in the field of hearing impairment who provides guidance to teachers throughout the region,” he wrote. “She is a master teacher who creatively links instructional goals to individual student interests and needs.”
Another ringing endorsement was provided by the parent of one of Ms. Wunderlich’s students. “I love my son’s elementary school, but they never once caught certain obstacles that my son was facing for reading…and test taking,” the mother observed. “She was his advocate and protector when I couldn’t be. She instructed staff on how to position themselves to help him while also teaching him to be accountable and speak up when he couldn’t hear or see something.”
For her part, Ms. Wunderlich is both surprised and honored by her award. “I think that the work that Teachers of the Deaf do in general often flies under the radar because we work with a small number of children in the education system,” she said. “To be recognized for my 26 years working with children, parents, and teachers around hearing loss is an unexpected surprise. I love what I do, and that I make a difference in the lives of children in my community.”
- Special Education