From high-stakes fashion to special education classes

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Former New York fashion merchandiser Celia Ayenesazan helps children with disabilities build confidence in the classroom

Celia Ayenesazan, center, with her friends at Louise Radloff High School, chose the South Georgia Teaching Masters program to become certified teachers in special education.

Long Island, New York, native Celia Ayenesazan graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology nearly 30 years ago and spent more than two decades working for Federated Department Stores, Inc., one of America’s largest operators of major retail chains including Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. . But nothing makes him happier than leading his own special education class.

This week, Ayenesazan walks through the early stages of the University of South Georgia to earn his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), and a second chance at a fulfilling career.

At the height of her career, she was looking for clothes for Ann Taylor, Express and Liz Claiborne, but her career stalled after the birth of her daughter to become a stay-at-home mom.

“I didn’t work in an office for eight years,” he explained. “I was away from the fast-paced fashion industry for a long time. I’m not sure if my skills have become obsolete. A friend suggested that I apply for a job at a local preschool because she saw the level of involvement I had with young children. I had my doubts, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done because it led to a new career.”

In 2016, Ayenesazan and his family moved South to metro Atlanta to join his extended family where he landed a paraprofessional position at an elementary school.

In no time, Ayenesazan was encouraged by his peers and administrators to become certified and lead his own class. She chose the University of South Georgia online MAT program to become a certified teacher in special education.

“I worked as a paraprofessional in an independent special education class and since then I have had relationships with students with disabilities,” said Ayenesazan. “The rewards of this work are enormous and its impact can be seen almost every day.”

Today, Ayenesazan is in her sophomore year at Radloff Middle School in Duluth, Georgia, a Title I school with 98% minority enrollment and 83% economically disadvantaged students.

Since joining the school, he has been awarded numerous grants and completed several DonorsChoose projects, totaling over $55,000 in donations and grant funds to support new and innovative efforts to integrate students with disabilities into the general education population.

“Because I teach in an independent classroom [where students with similar disabilities are taught in one classroom], our students are often not integrated with the general education community,” he explained. “I want my students to gain confidence in their abilities and push them out of the nest, so to speak. Social support is very important in this process.”

That is why Ayenesazan focuses much of its grant search on efforts to enable students with disabilities to participate in unique hands-on learning opportunities with students from the general population. Since Ayenesazan started at Radloff Middle, he has created an outdoor learning environment and garden space, in addition to Tower Gardens, an aeroponics indoor growing system, to extend the learning experience by growing vegetables in the classroom, all year round. Students process vegetables and bring them home to cook. He started the first LEGO robotics team for students with disabilities who competed in regional competitions. Recently, Ayenesazan received a $20,000 grant to create a new multi-sensory space that will be equipped with alternative lighting, fiber optics, vibrating chairs, bubble tubes, bean bag chairs, swings and fidget activities.

“Multi-sensory spaces can provide a comfortable space for students with disabilities, to engage with peers in general education and special education settings,” said Ayenesazan. “This will offer a classroom alternative for students to socialize and collaborate. The ultimate goal is to offer all students an inclusive learning environment.”

In the near future, Ayenesazan plans to start a sewing club so students can learn basic sewing skills and make costumes for school plays. He also coordinated with several teachers to establish the school’s first gardening club. Another passion she has is teaching students to recognize the power of their voice advocacy skills.

“I love to think outside the box and find innovative ways to empower all students,” says Ayenesazan. “When you love what you do, you dedicate your efforts to making a difference in the lives of all students.”

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