GREGORY, Texas — A big honor was given to a local teacher at S.F. Austin Elementary School.
Heather Shores-Price won the Teacher of the Year award in the Gregory-Portland Independent School District. She's in her third year at the school and during that time, she has transformed the special education program there.
So what makes her do it?
It's more than just her two decades on the job as she’s having a huge impact on not only the children she teaches but the entire school community as well.
We caught up with Mrs. Shores-Price recently with some of her students on the playground.
To the casual observer, it may have looked like any other recess unless you looked a little bit closer.
Shores-Price is the winner of the recent teacher of the year award at her school.
It’s an award she told us she never expected, especially when she’s just doing what she loves best.
During her time there, she's broken down many stereotypes.
"Just the one that may be our students aren't capable of doing what everyone else is doing," she said.
That’s why Shores-Price, her principal and other teachers have all students interact with each other, regardless of the program they’re in.
"It's diversity at its best,” Shores-Price told us. “Everyone grows.”
We wanted to know how difficult it was to gain her students’ trust.
"It's getting to know your students inside and out,” she said, speaking outside on the playground watching as teachers’ aides and the principal took care of the students. “It's the best way to gain their trust. And just time.”
Shores-Price's working is captivating to parents of the children she teaches.
"It can be very challenging,” April Fisher said as she watched Shores-Price carefully guide and teach her 6-year-old son, Kenton, a first-grader in Mrs. Shore-Price's class.
"She's just been an amazing asset to him,” Fisher said, adding that Shores-Price has made a significant impact in his life. “He used to point and scream to get what he wants and now he's learned to use his words and tell us what he wants.”
Kenton lives with autism, has cerebral palsy, and also had a stroke before he was born, his mother says that affects the left side of his body. Kenton is also cognitively delayed, meaning his thoughts and adaptive behavior are below his age.
"You just learn to accept it and roll with it and you just know that he is going to get there and he's going to get there on his own time,” Fisher said.
It’s something Shores-Price knows all too well. Her older brother, Crid, was born with Down Syndrome.
"I think through having my brother we learned compassion and patience and understanding,” she told us.
As Crid's younger sister, Shores-Price witnessed first-hand how kids with special needs can be treated by others.
"I just noticed kids didn't come over to play with him,” Shores-Price recalls as they grew up. “Like no one came to the door to ask him if he could play.”
And now, Shores-Price is making progress making sure that doesn't happen to her own students.
We asked S.F. Austin principal Brenda Brinkman what it’s like to see her students interact with their same-aged peers.
"It's almost like magic.," Brinkman said. "She just senses what all the children need and she provides it.”
As we sat on the swings watching Mrs. Shores-Price, Brinkman says integrating all students is key.
"They are also accepting of one another,” said Brinkman. “It's like the other kids don't notice that these children are in any different from themselves.”
So what makes Shores-Price so special?
"Her energy,” Brinkman told us. “Her passion for her students. Her calmness. She just draws you in."
Working with other teachers, parents, and the community, Shores-Price has managed to turn the once-fledgling program around in just two years. And for her, she says the sky is the limit.
"Special education is just something I have done my entire life,” Shores-Price said as she looks to the future.
She told us it’s her hope that by integrating special ed students with other students, it will help them go out into society as they grow up and get along with others just like anyone else would.