ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — One moment for a 12-year-old over three decades ago has created a ripple effect that's now making a difference in the Central Florida community every day.
It was truly a life changing moment for one Volusia County A+ Teacher who learned that you should always listen to your mother.
In Joan Wheeler's blended Pre-K class at Pathways Elementary School, hand puppets like Benji capture the imagination of her students.
Her students are a mix. Some have disabilities while some do not. All of them are busy learning together.
"It's good for the children to all be together,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler was nominated for her unique hands-on teaching style. She's been an instructor for 37 years. She's spent 32 of those years teaching kids with some type of special need, which is something she was exposed to when she was 12.
She said, "A neighbor lady came and asked my mother if I would teach her son piano lessons, and I did not want to do it. He was a child with disabilities. He had Down syndrome, and I was terrified. I didn't think I could do it. I didn't want to do it. My mother said it would be good for me."
It's a good thing she listened.
Wheeler added, "I taught him. It was the best thing, probably the best decision in my whole life that anyone has ever made for me. When he graduated from high school, he played Pomp and Circumstance at his graduation, and that whole process just motivated me to want to be a teacher of students with special needs."
The two are still friends to this day.
The lesson that Wheeler learned from her mother is one that she will never forget, which is to focus on her students abilities above all else and making learning fun.