BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They work closely with students that have learning challenges, and at times, give those children a voice when they can't communicate. This week, hundreds of special education teachers and administrators are holding their first conference in South Mississippi. They learned new strategies and tools to help those children succeed.
When 17-year-old Haley LeBouef started at Bay High School, some people wondered if she really belonged in a regular classroom.
"The teachers that had worked with her were very concerned that she would not be able to keep up to do the regular diploma work," said Beth Favre, Bay-Waveland Schools Transition Coordinator.
"It was kind of hard," Haley admitted.
Haley was born premature, weighing in at only two pounds. Despite her learning disabilities, Haley did attend traditional classes. Not only did she complete her regular courses, Haley passed all of the state tests on her first attempt, and she is ranked in the top third of her graduating class.
"I'm happy," Haley said.
"She is the success story. She shows that with hard work and determination that a lot of things can be overcome," said Favre.
On Thursday, the Mississippi Council for Exceptional Children honored Haley with the "Yes I Can" Award. About 200 special education teachers and administrators met in Biloxi this week to learn how to help other children, from the disabled to the gifted, overcome their learning challenges.
"They need special accommodations and modifications and our teachers are trained to do that, to think outside the box and think of any way we can teach these students to learn the same concepts everyone else is learning," said Council President-Elect Dr. Sherry Ponder.
The conference touched on other topics, like using the arts in the classroom to teach children who have emotional and behavioral disorders, modifying lesson plans to meet Common Core objectives and addressing the needs of students with autism.
The goal is to raise expectations to help students like Haley make that transition from the classroom to life outside of school.
Haley looked proudly at her award and said, "It's special, because didn't know I could do this."
Haley was also crowned "Prom Princess" last year and she is this year's "Senior Favorite". After graduation, Haley plans to attend community college and major in graphic design.
Friday, Mississippi Congressman Gregg Harper shared his personal story with the crowd. He explained how his son inspired him to fight for the disabled.