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People First

“People First” means an individual who goes above and beyond to make a difference in another person’s life. The three individuals who received the “People First” Award recognize a person as an individual first before seeing a disability.

On Saturday, May 5, 2012 representatives from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee (CSEAC) were in attendance, as well as family members of the winners and those who submitted the nominations. In the words of those who nominated them, read why CSEAC chose the following candidates to be the first recipients of the annual 2012 State “People First” Award.

Marilee Boylan Nominated by Romie Tobin

We are nominating Marilee Boylan for the state “People First” Award. Marilee has been an ACE Coordinator and Teacher in the Poudre School District for 12 years. Marilee was the first ACE Coordinator to do career assessment and job development for our students with significant support needs. Most of the students she placed on internships were young adults that many had labeled as “unemployable”. She found placements all over the city of Fort Collins. She was an expert at observing at local business and being able to target job situations that were tailored to her students’ strengths while making the worksite more efficient for the employer. While working full time as the ACE Supported Employment teacher, she collaborated with local students, family members and colleagues to start a new Chapter of the ARC in Larimer County. Marilee then served as the local president of the board of directors for the ARC of Larimer County. Three years ago the Poudre School District was proud to launch the first site for Project Search (career development collaborative for youth with developmental disabilities) in Colorado. As the Project Search teacher, Marilee jumped in and forged the program in partnership with Columbine Health Systems, the Center for Community Partnerships, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and Foothills Gateway INC. To date the program has been able to place nearly 70% of the students in paid work at the completion of 3 internships! Marilee is the reason Project Search has been so successful in Fort Collins! Marilee’s background as an occupational therapist has supported her vision of paid employment for youth with special needs. She has an endless stream of internship ideas and she has the tenacity and professionalism to create those opportunities for her students. She always begins with uncovering the strengths and dreams of her students and sees them through their internships, supporting them, along with her of job coaches, to achieve success in the world of work. Marilee is highly successful at her work because she believes in the students she serves. No matter what the disability, no matter what the challenges each student faces, Marilee sees potential in these young adults and is doing whatever it takes to facilitate their success. Marilee Boylan puts her students – her people first! She is to be commended for her work and is a much –deserving candidate for the “People First” Award. We are proud to be able to nominate Marilee for this award!

Laura Magnuson Nominated by Wendy Gordan

I am pleased to nominate Laura Magnuson for the 2012 State “People First” Award. She truly exemplifies the spirit of “People First.” Laura is the teacher in the Craig Hospital School Program. She holds a very unique position as her student load consists solely of high school students who have sustained traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries rendering these students “disabled” (cognitively and/or physically) when they return to their home schools. Laura has a unique ability to look beyond the disability and provide opportunities that can make life as normal as possible for them. I have asked some of her students and parents to share ways that Laura has made a difference in their lives. Their words say it best!

“During her senior year, M sustained a brain injury following a horse riding accident and was paralyzed on her left side as well as having a frontal injury. M. received tutoring from this amazing teacher, Laura. … She was with M encouraging her on, not only on her bad days, but also on her good days. She went above and beyond, staying late to watch M take her first steps and cried with the rest of us. She became Family! … Laura always encouraged M to still go for her dreams of college even though a teacher at her high school told M “I guess college is out of the picture now.” But M always held on to Laura’s words! M is now attending a community college and will soon be enrolling in a college of her choice.”

“Laura was an awesome advocate for MD. She constantly followed up with the staff and teachers to check on MD’s progress and to answer questions. She was ALWAYS cheerful, friendly, and optimistic toward MD each time she saw him. MD was able to graduate from high school. Without Laura, I know this would not have been possible.”

In reference to helping a student transition back to school with multiple physical and cognitive disabilities, “Laura was an integral part…(and) always had suggestions, and seemed to already have thought out how to make J’s new world a bit easier for him to maneuver in.”

BF was a student who sustained a C1 SCI and is ventilator dependent. He was hospitalized his entire senior year at Craig. Laura went far and above to provide BF with the opportunity to graduate with his class by working with Make-a-Wish Foundation to fly BF to his home school. The pictures from his graduation said it all. That day BF was no longer the “disabled kid” in the hospital but very much a part of his graduating class. This would never have been possible without Laura’s compassion and ability to provide/advocate for normal life experiences for her students.

Lastly, Laura recently worked with an SCI individual to help him complete his GED exam. Following successful completion of the exam, Laura coordinated a “graduation” for SG with not only Craig staff but also news media present. What a positive life experience for SG!

These are but a few of the ways Laura has impacted the lives of her students by helping them move beyond their disabilities and achieve great things. Thank you for your consideration of Laura for this very deserving award.

Rhonda Reichardt Nominated by Suzannah Vowel

It is with great pleasure that I write to nominate my friend and colleague for the first "People First" Award. There is no one who better exemplifies a devotion to improving the lives of students with special needs. Though each of her students is an individual, there are many group activities Rhonda arranges. She researched availability, specifications and costs so that our district might purchase a small activity bus to take high school challenged students, even those in wheelchairs, to special activities. They have visited the Ronald McDonald House in Denver, frequent ski trips to our local ski areas, Regional Special Olympics Competition in Craig, a very special fishing day held at a local ranch, as well as various other local outings. Each of Rhonda's students is a unique individual. She establishes exceptional communication with parents that she may be able to better address a student's unique needs and qualities. An important part of a special needs student with significant challenges is preparation for the future. Rhonda is involved in addressing life skills needs as well as on the job training opportunities for students. Several graduates are employed in our community thanks to their training in Rhonda's program. When we felt that our students were somewhat isolated from the more regular environment of the HS, despite inclusion in classrooms, Rhonda worked hard to develop a "Peer Buddy" program, where students in "Leadership" classes are familiarized with our challenged students. Rhonda developed activities for both populations to complete together. This has definitely improved friendliness, support and positive role models for "special" students. This year, we have had an unexpected departure of a member of the Special Education Department, requiring other members to fill the gaps created by his absence. Even with these increased demands, Rhonda has responded (as have the other members of the department) positively, always listens with a friendly ear to concerns from other teachers. She is a strong communicator and leader! I'm hopeful that I have conveyed a small picture of the excellence which Rhonda brings to the profession of the "Special Needs Teacher." Her students are her priority and she is a very strong advocate for their needs and future.

The Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee (CSEAC) believes that this award serves to honor Marilee Boylan, Laura Magnuson and Rhonda Reichardt for their exemplary work in supporting students with disabilities and also hopes this award will help others to see individuals with disabilities as people first.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this webpage are those of the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Colorado Department of Education or the Colorado State Board of Education.

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