Glenholme’s Teacher of the Year is an inspiration to all

Glenholme School's 2016 Teacher of the Year Carolyn Dahl, at center.

WASHINGTON — Even in this age of Internet and online everything, a competent and inspiring teacher is still crucial to a child’s success in school. Nothing can replace the student/teacher relationship and the importance of encouraging children and aiding them in their future success. To help achieve this goal a dedicated teacher is crucial.

Such a person is Carolyn Dahl at The Glenholme School who was recently named 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year. Surrounded by fellow faculty members, friends, and family Dahl was praised for her exceptional work and her service to the school and its students.

The Glenholme School, a center of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, is one of more than 20 Devereux centers in the United Sates. It is an independent, co-educational special needs boarding and day school for young people, ages ten to adult in middle school, high school, and postgraduate, for career development. The positive atmosphere provides guidance for students with special needs to achieve competent social and academic levels.

Located in the bucolic town of Washington, the school was established through the generosity of the Van Sinderen family. Owners of the 105-acre Glenholme Farm, they were very involved in their community and passionate about giving back to others. In 1968 Jean White Van Sinderen generously donated the entire property to the Devereux Foundation, requesting that the farm be transformed into a school for children with special needs. Van Sinderen had learned of the work of special education pioneer Helena T. Devereux and desired to create a school where children with special behavioral and learning needs could develop their potential. The school's administrative offices are in the Van Sinderen family home, a colonial revival house originally called Glen Holme, designed by architect Ehrick Rossiter.

In this, its 49th year of existence, Glenholme graduated 24 students, the largest in its history. One hundred percent of those graduates have a post-secondary placement, college, or other training program to prepare them for the next stage of life. It is a testament to the care the school takes in preparing its curricula and, of course, in the caliber of its teaching staff.

Carolyn Dahl is a prime example of the school’s teachers. She received her degree in elementary education and then went on Southern Connecticut University to receive a master’s in special education. She came to Glenholme in 1990 and has never looked back.

“Decades ago, when I first started teaching at Glenholme, the students were challenging,” says Dahl. “Often from difficult circumstances and placed at the school by the state, they acted out and attempted to avoid learning. This is no longer the situation. Even with the abundance of testing, the multitude of disabilities labeling and the added emotional baggage of the digital world, our current students — the diverse group that they are —are truly invested in learning. Having caring families and supportive school districts, today’s students genuinely work hard to get the most of their experience at Glenholme.

“I never really wanted to change jobs after I started at Glenholme — it just felt like the right place for me,” explains Dahl. “I started out teaching English and then switched over to math — teaching the more challenging students everything from general math to geometry. They are all amazing students and work hard to understand the subject. All of a sudden when they catch onto the concept, their eyes light up and they are smiling. That’s the most rewarding part of my job. To know that you can make a difference and any student can learn.”

Dahl retired after twenty-four years at Glenholme and has returned three times to resume teaching. She can‘t seem to stay away and that is one of the reasons she was chosen Teacher of the Year.

“It caught me by surprise,” she says. “I never in all my life thought I would have that honor. It took my breath away and I am deeply grateful for this tribute.”

“This is the third year in which the school has honored one of its teachers,” explains Denise Watson, Director of Public Relations. “The person is chosen by the administration. We look for a teacher who goes above and beyond in her willingness to reach out to students and encourage them to persevere. Carolyn keeps retiring and coming back because the students adore her and are very excited about this honor we’ve bestowed. We can’t speak highly enough about her.”

There are less than 20 teachers in total, which makes Dahl’s honor even more impressive. She is looking forward to the special Alumni Day event where many of the students will come back to visit.

“I get Christmas cards and messages from some of my students and updates about how they are doing. I’m proud that I had a part in their education and that they were able to pursue their dreams.”

“The success rate is pretty remarkable,” says Watson, “given the limitations of some of the students. We recently got an e-mail from a parent whose daughter was enrolled at Glenholme for two years. He had no ambitions for her to go to college. Yet she is now actually heading off in that direction. He credits her success to our school and that’s what makes it all worth while.”

There are many such success stories at Glenholme that makes it unique in tailoring programs to fit students’ needs, no matter what the disability. Each child has a right to learn and given the right circumstances he or she can succeed.

“As a teacher, I am exhilarated when I can reflect on how much progress a student has made, and how hard he or she worked to get to the point of understanding and applying the knowledge. That, to me, is the best feeling,” Dahl says. “Through it all, I find joy in celebrating student success. It is true that teaching the students at Glenholme brings me joy.”

And the feeling is mutual. Congratulations Carolyn Dahl – and to Glenholme as well for availing themselves to the needs of students.

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