This is Cheryl Hawbaker’s 34th year at Smouse Opportunity School in Des Moines. And she’s seen much change in that time.
Hawbaker, a teacher with the Directions program, works with students with more profound disabilities. It’s a population of kids that began attending Smouse the year before she started working there.
Up until about 1980, Hawbaker says, the school had dealt mostly with physically disabled students with less severe intellectual disabilities. Then they began to serve children with severe and profound disabilities and had to figure out how to do so.
As a recent college graduate, “I was coming in with expectations of curriculum, and the Des Moines school district, and Iowa in general, was trying to figure out how to service these kiddos,” she says.
But they made it through the transition. Today, Hawbaker teaches basically a general education curriculum that is on-level and adapted to meet each child’s specific needs, including medical and therapeutic.
While it’s a challenge to create such individualized curricula, she enjoys solving the puzzle of how to meet individuals’ needs. What she likes most about her job “is the flexibility of being able to design curriculum, materials and programs.”
It was an experience as a swim instructor that led Hawbaker to teaching. A foster family with special needs children wanted them to have swim lessons, and she was the instructor assigned to the kids.
“I took them from knowing nothing about swimming to having them understand basic swimming techniques,” she says. She decided then she wanted to pursue a career teaching those with special needs.
When she began at Smouse, she strongly believed in Dr. David W. Smouse’s mission and continues to do so today.
“What has kept me here for 34 years is I was very fortunate to have some very good mentors that had made Smouse their career, and they had believed in Dr. Smouse’s mission also, that all children deserved an education in a safe and caring environment,” she says.
Hawbaker, who is retiring at the end of this school year, wants that legacy to continue with the next generation of teachers.
“I hope I can pass on to somebody that Smouse is just more than a building — it’s a vision that continues today,” she says.