Holmans USA, LLC supports excellence in teaching, particularly in Albuquerque Public Schools’ within the 90+ autism specific classrooms. “Angels in the Classroom” honors APS’ finest autism teachers and Holman’s is seeking nominations from the community from now until the Spring of 2015. “Angels” will be recognized in the Albuquerque Journal’s Business Outlook and celebrated at a reception in the Spring 2015. Nominees must teach full-time in an autism-specific classroom in APS.
To read about the Angels in the Classroom Reception, please click here

Monthly Winners:

May 2015: Amber Feathers

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Amber Feathers, a teacher at Desert Ridge Middle School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Amber describes her classroom as, “hands on all the way”. With an undergraduate degree in art, she consistently incorporates art into her classroom and lessons. As Amber worked towards her master’s degree in special education, she was drawn to the strategies used in autism specific classrooms. “I didn’t really know anything about autism before that. But the more I learned about it the more it just made sense for me. I understood it really well. I didn’t have to delve into it and learn about it as much, it just came naturally.” Amber emphasizes how important sticking to the routine is in her classroom. “I’m really big into making sure they know what is expected of them and the routine, because it makes a world of difference in the classroom.” The consistent routine gives her students the stability of knowing exactly what is going to happen. Even for special events like field trips, she makes sure her students are prepared beforehand and know what to expect. Each lesson flows into the next, so everything has a purpose within the next step.

April 2015: Kimberly Fitzgerald

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Kimberly Fitzgerald, a teacher at Volcano Vista High School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Ever since Kimberly was a teenager, she knew that she wanted to work with people with developmental disabilities. Throughout college she worked at group homes for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. After earning her masters in social work, she managed group homes for 20 years before becoming a teacher. Now in her second year at Volcano Vista, she has found her niche. “I love my class, I have the best students,” Kimberly gushes. With six ninth and tenth grade boys in her class, she certainly has her hands full. “I’m getting them ready to be young men. I look very much at what do they need, what skills do they need to make them successful? My biggest focus is for them to understand that they do have autism, to know what it is, to know what it means, how it affects them individually and how to advocate for themselves based on what they need.” Preparing them for life after high school also involves discussing relationships. “We’ve been doing sex ed, which has been really fun. My EAs (educational assistants) make fun of me but I’m getting through it, I have all boys!” Kimberly explains that due to her training as a social worker, she focuses more on the social skills in her classroom, but academics are also important.

March 2015: Jaye Walizer

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Jaye Walizer, a teacher at Dennis Chavez Elementary, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Jaye always knew she wanted to be a teacher. In high school, shortly after she began working at a state-run facility for adults with autism, she knew she was meant to teach special education students. Throughout her career, she has taught students with a wide variety of special needs, from dyslexia to autism. Four years ago, a few special education teachers left Dennis Chavez and Jaye volunteered to help out in one of the autism-specific classrooms. The parents and students loved her so much she has taught in that classroom ever since. She doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that her job is hard, but she credits her perseverance and always looking on the bright side for getting her to this point. Not long after she began working at Dennis Chavez, she decided to simultaneously pursue her master’s degree in special education from UNM. Now in her sixteenth year at Dennis Chavez, Jaye credits most of her success to teamwork. “I have had fabulous teams that work with me. My assistants have been wonderful… It’s not me who does it, it is our team and we work as a team.” She also has an open door policy for parents and communicates with them on a regular basis. This network of people working together helps keep the student on track and provides a support system.

February 2015: Leona Strotman

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Leona Strotman, a teacher at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Leona will go above and beyond to see her students thrive inside and outside of the classroom. She has close connections to special education and autism; both of her brothers and her sister were on medication and in special education classes throughout their childhoods. “I saw this growing up because I was the oldest and I took care of my brothers a lot and my sister. I saw the pain my two brothers and sister went through, I saw the medication was flowing like crazy at our house.” Her son was also in special education, the doctors initially diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. Many years later, Leona discovered he is actually autistic. That is what sparked her interest in autism. She explains her initial (and all too common) misunderstanding of what autism is; “I had always been under the impression that autism and mental retardation went hand in hand. It wasn’t until the last 15 years that they discovered there are highly-functioning autistic kids… But even if they don’t have speech, they have normal intelligence brains. It’s just not getting out, it’s trapped in there and they don’t know what to do about it.” She advocates teaching her students what autism is and making sure they understand that they aren’t stupid, they aren’t wired incorrectly, they just see things differently. Skills like empathy, holding conversations and seeing another point of view have to be practiced repeatedly to be effective.

January 2015: Heidi Hawkins

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Heidi Hawkins, a teacher at Highland High School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Heidi’s classroom is a haven for students having trouble with school. She teaches differential education, shaping her curriculum to fit the needs of each individual student. “Each kid doesn’t fit the same box, so you have to come up with differential education specific for each child.” Heidi always knew she wanted to work with special needs students. She actually attended Highland as a high school student. She received her masters from UNM in Special Education. She then spent 20 years teaching special needs students at Grant Middle School and is now currently in her fifth year of teaching autistic students at Highland. She focuses on teaching her students not only study skills but also giving them social communication tools and career readiness techniques. “We work on self-regulation and we work on expected skills like how to be in a conversation without blurting out their self-preferred topics all the time… being aware when is a good time to enter a conversation.”

December 2014: Coleen Lizewski

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Coleen Lizewski, a teacher at Hoover Middle School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Coleen never expected to be a teacher, much less a special education teacher. She initially pursued a career in business finance, took time off to raise her children and then began volunteering in the classroom. At first she laughed people off who insisted she should be a teacher, “and then the first time I did it, that was it- I loved it!” Now in her sixth year at Hoover, she couldn’t imagine it any other way. Coleen has always been intrigued by autism. Even before she thought of teaching she read books by older individuals about living with autism and found them fascinating. She explains that to this day, “I am always trying to figure out what is going to work for each kid, that’s what I like about it”. Coleen and her educational assistants focus on increasing each student’s independence at whatever level is appropriate for them. However, she makes it clear that academics are still her first priority. “I set the standards high for them... When you are here you need to be working, this is school.”

November 2014: Cristal Wilson

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Cristal Wilson, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Cristal’s focus is helping her preschoolers generalize what they learn so they are able to contribute successfully both in the classroom as well as in the community. “Generalization is a huge piece for us, if I teach a student to do something in the classroom setting and that’s the only place they will ever succeed, I haven’t really given them much of an education.” To facilitate this, field trips into the community are part of her curriculum. Whether it is an outing to the park or the zoo, it is no easy task with ten preschoolers who have varying levels of communication skills. Her nominator, Patrick Ware, a special education teacher and a mentee of Cristal’s explains, “She calmly accepts that her students can have explosive personalities and weathers the most violent of outbursts with a calm demeanor. In short, she is an amazing teacher and should be recognized for her outstanding achievements”.

October 2014: Heather Diluzio

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Heather Diluzio, a special education teacher at Pajarito Elementary School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. “I always knew I was going to be a teacher, a doctor or a firefighter.” Now in her tenth year of teaching, it is clear she found her true passion. She originally planned on working with the deaf and blind until she met a little boy with autism at a summer program. “His mother was such a powerful advocate for him, very good at educating all of us.” As Heather learned about autism she became more and more interested in it, then a coworker connected her with a job opening at one of the first APS autism specific programs. “It fell into my lap. At that point I knew I wanted to do special education and that I wanted to be a teacher. That little boy just drew me on that path and through dumb luck I fell in with the right people.”

September 2014: Lisa Smith

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Lisa Smith, a teacher at the Chaparral Developmental Preschool, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Lisa Smith never expected to have such a personal relationship with autism when she took her first job working with autistic children. She began studying autism and simultaneously fell in love with the job. Then she began to see signs of autism from her own nine month old son; signs she never would have noticed prior to studying the disorder. Once formally diagnosed, he was able to get early intervention. At eight years old, her son is now in a gifted program.

August 2014: Jennifer McGlothlin

Holmans USA, LLC recognizes Jennifer McGlothlin, a teacher at La Cueva High School, as one of its Angels in the Classroom. Jennifer McGlothlin smiles from ear to ear as she talks about her students, “I hug my kids… I just love them. I haven’t had a single student that I didn’t love.” She works diligently to create an effective, nurturing classroom at La Cueva High School for students with autism. Originally from Michigan, she holds a master’s degree in Occupational Safety Management. Now in her twelfth year with APS, it is clear this career as an educator is her true passion, “I love it. I’m obsessed with it.