Staff Photo: Keith Farner Roberts Elementary autism teacher Peggy Vanover credits her Mom's advice to substitute teach during college breaks with helping Vanover find her career path. Vanover was recently honored as Roberts' Teacher of the Year.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of profiles of the Teachers of the Year at the North Gwinnett cluster schools.
SUWANEE -- Some advice Peggy Vanover received in college from her mother is what she credits with helping her find her career path.
Vanover, a special-education teacher of moderate autism for students in kindergarten through second grade, was recently named Teacher of the Year at Roberts Elementary. In her third year at Roberts, Vanover is in her 16th year in Gwinnett schools, and previously taught at Creekland Middle for 11 years.
But Vanover's mother, a teacher herself, encouraged Vanover to substitute teach during college breaks. Quickly, Vanover said she found out what she wasn't interested in, but also what she fell in love with: teaching children with special needs.
"I was going toward a middle school degree, but I changed it immediately," said Vanover of her degree in intellectual disabilities.
Vanover's mother, a general education teacher who also taught foreign children to speak English, was also recognized as a Teacher of the Year at Dyer Elementary about six years ago.
When Vanover began her career, she worked with the moderate and severe population of students with intellectual disabiliies before it was called autism. It was then that Vanover realized from hands-on experience that this was where she was meant to be, to serve children and families.
"That's another big part in my job, is working with the parents and we have to work as a team," Vanover said. "I know how much they love their children and want the best for them. It makes me have the goal to do all I can to help them."
As a first time nominee for the award, Vanover said she was honored to be recognized because of the excellent colleagues at Roberts who support her students.
"I hope that they see me as a positive person," she said. "A teacher who wants her students to achieve just as all the other students in the school."
Roberts Principal Dion Jones said Vanover came highly regarded when he hired her, and made a smooth transition from middle school.
"She knows the autism program and is very patient," Jones said. "She knows the curriculum well, and how to integrate it."
For the last two years, Vanover served as the school fundraiser for the Georgia Race for Autism, an annual 5K and 10K race that this year is on Saturday at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. The fundraiser raises money for Spectrum Camps and Clubs and for the Autism Society. Spectrum Camps and Clubs is a parent-operated group whose mission is to provide support, education and resources for children and adults.
That organization puts on summer camps for kids with autism and Vanover has served as a counselor and co-director, she said, and served as a social skills coordinator for a weeknight parents support group.
To be mentioned among the other teachers who were honored at their schools around Gwinnett is humbling, Vanover said.
"This is a wonderful county with high expectations for their teachers," she said. "So it's amazing to be a part of that group."