Laura Prado is a bilingual middle school teacher showing others how to master more than one tongue. Her dream is to help those in special education become bilingual. She is enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Master of Science in Education – Special Education online program and is on track to graduate in May 2021, just 18 months from her start date.
As a non-traditional student with a full-time teaching job and a family, Prado wanted to finish her degree program as quickly as possible. She has five children ages 5, 7, 17, 19 and 21. She learned about the UW-Superior program through an online search.
"It seemed like it was a perfect fit and just what I needed at the time. And right now, it's working out great."
She's no stranger to the UW system, as she completed her undergraduate degree at UW-Whitewater in 2008 in Spanish, ESL and bilingual education. While she started an MSE program elsewhere, she decided that the online option through Superior would be a better match.
As a mom and educator, she found the online format much more convenient to get things done from the comfort of home.
"Yes, I've been up many late nights, but at least I don't have to drive somewhere and worry about getting home, especially when the weather changes," she said.
Prado started looking at teaching as a viable profession when she was in high school. She joined a program called Youth Tutoring Youth and was offered a position to help in a special needs classroom. She loved it and from there started working at a special needs camp in Sheboygan for elementary age through adult.
"It made me love teaching. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but special education became more attractive because I realized I'm very patient. I felt like this was for me."
"It's not their fault that [individuals with special needs] need extra support. We should be able to provide them that."
Language Arts in English and Spanish
Prado works as a middle school teacher in the Delavan-Darien school district in a dual-language program that is designed for students to become bilingual and biliterate in Spanish and English, regardless of their background. She teaches Spanish language arts and social studies in Spanish to seventh graders.
"I have to remind myself it has to be academic Spanish and not Spanglish. It's good for the kids. And it's amazing to see how many of our students who started in the program in first grade are bilingual now."
Prado grew up speaking Spanish and loves to help others learn. Over 20% of children coming into her school district do not speak English as their first language. That can be a challenge at school and at home, as many non-English-speaking parents rely on their children to translate.
"I want them to be able to help their parents as well as be productive community members," she said.
Her own parents immigrated from Mexico just before she was born. All three of her siblings have exceeded their parents' expectations, with her sister graduating with a bachelor's degree and her brother currently enrolled in college.
"My parents came here for a better life. Unfortunately, they did not even complete high school in Mexico, so they're super proud of their children."
Reaching Those With Learning Differences
Prior to this year, Prado did a lot of co-teaching in math classrooms, so she took a particular interest in the SPED 764: Math Assessment and Strategies course in the UW-Superior MSE in Special Education online curriculum.
"I really enjoyed having a better understanding of why a student might be struggling in math and how to help them. I also realized that offering modifications to help a special education student could help all students, especially struggling learners."
In SPED 760: Behavior Analysis and Intervention, she appreciated learning that a student's emotional needs can be greater than physical ones.
The classes she has taken so far have been beneficial to her and applicable to her role as a teacher. Prado has been pleased with the faculty at UW-Superior but found Dr. Jessica Cook especially impressive for the extra measures she took to check on the well-being of the students.
"As a student, parent and/or educator, we need to take care of ourselves, and that's extremely important. Dr. Cook would remind us about that when she did her weekly check-in videos, and her feedback was always positive. She cares above and beyond what we have in the lectures and the readings."
Always Thinking of Others
Upon completion of the MSE program, Prado's biggest goal is to become a bilingual special education teacher. In addition, she would like to work toward ensuring that materials being sent home to parents of special education students are in their native language.
"I'd like to make sure that's provided for our families because it's important for them to understand what's happening with their child in school," she said.
She's currently teaching in a mainstream classroom but is already using what she has learned to help make modifications for special education students who are in her class.
While her family might not have immediately understood why she wanted to go back to school for this degree, they were always supportive. She hopes to walk across the stage in May 2021 for her graduation ceremony.
"I would love to participate, just so my children can see. Even though they saw me the first time, they were only in elementary school then, and now they're older. It will probably be the last time I do that."
She doesn't have much downtime for hobbies, but she used to teach Zumba dance fitness classes after school and on the weekends at her middle school. She put the classes on hold after her last child was born but has considered starting them again.
She is grateful for everything she has learned in the MSE program and regrets not starting it sooner. Prado recommends the program for all teachers.
"I should have done this a long time ago because it's really opened my eyes to the great needs that students have. I like that I now have the background to offer both students and my colleagues support."
"Overall, this program makes you a better educator, whether you work with special education students or not. It helps you provide support for all students in the classroom who need it. You'll learn lots of different strategies to help them succeed."
Learn more about the UW-Superior MSE – Special Education online program.
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