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Phoenix Forward

STARS grant recipient Todd Stengel finds creative ways to use funds

For one College of Education graduate, teaching kids in and out of the classroom is his life’s work

University of Phoenix College of Education graduate and STARS grant recipient Todd Stengel took an unusual path to his current job as a middle-school special education teacher.

“I started out as a swim instructor,” says Stengel, who recently won the grant, which is designated for classroom tools. “I worked under contract with school districts and privately running swim camps, first in California and then in Colorado, for several years. And then I took a brief hiatus as a flooring salesman in Beverly Hills.”

While his stint working in Beverly Hills was lucrative, Stengel still felt a strong urge to teach. “I still ran some swim classes around my sales job,” he explains. “But it just wasn’t the same. I decided then that my heart beats strongest teaching, so I enrolled to get my TED/CLAD California teaching credential from University of Phoenix.”

Stengel, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology, became attracted to teaching special needs students in general, and middle-school special needs students in particular. “Middle school is the toughest development phase for kids psychologically and emotionally,” he explains. “And when you factor special needs into that, middle school special education is the toughest of the tough. That challenge is what appealed to me most about where I chose to teach.”

I love what I do, I love the kids, and I am so grateful for the STARS grant funds.

Stengel now works with a group of special needs students at a middle school in Marin County, Calif., teaching all subjects and also helping his students develop study plans for their mainstream classes. “Many of my students have trouble keeping track of their basic school supplies,” Stengel explains. “So I used some of my $500 in STARS grant funds to help provide things like extra pencils, paper and notebooks to keep my students on track, in addition to the MacSpeech Dictate™ software I purchased to help students who have trouble writing things down.”

Stengel also used some of his STARS grant funds to pay for the special lunch outings he provides as an incentive to his students for setting and completing goals. But perhaps the most poignant use of those funds occurred after the tragic death of a student. “We had a student commit suicide,” he explains. “That student hung himself from a tree on his way to school. One of my own students walked by and witnessed it. It was very difficult for everyone at my school, both students and teachers.”

Stengel used the remaining balance of his STARS grant funds to purchase tissues for the entire school — enough for students and staff­ to use to get through a tough period of mourning. “Everyone was crying and upset, but the school didn’t have funds for tissues. That really illustrates the budget crunches public schools are under now.”

When it comes to stretching how far a dollar can go in the classroom, Stengel is a pro. “We only get allotted $250 in classroom supply funds for the whole year,” he says. “So an extra $500 makes a huge difference. I love what I do, I love the kids, and I am so grateful for the STARS grant funds.”

MacSpeech Dictate is a registered trademark of Nuance Communications Inc.

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