At the Osseo Education Center (OEC), scholars work each day to expand their academic, employment and independent living skills through ownership, empowerment and community building. One staff member who is passionate about helping students accomplish this is Michelle Dennard, a Special Education-Education Support Professional.
“Oftentimes students come in with no confidence, and then they leave with a smile knowing they can do it,” Dennard said. “They leave here with confidence, and that’s what I love about what I do.”
At the OEC, Dennard leads Cooking 1 and 2. In these classes, students learn about all of the steps of preparing, cooking and cleaning up different kinds of meals and dishes, and they work together as a team to prepare the meal. The students have cooked various dishes like cheeseburgers, egg rolls and many desserts. They can then bring these skills with them to their houses or group homes and show their families and caregivers what they’ve learned.
“My favorite is when a student says they have never done this before, and they get to try it,” Dennard said.
Dennard also leads a resume and interview class at the OEC, where students work together to prepare a resume and practice interview questions they may experience while applying for a job. When the students get a job, Dennard will often accompany them to help them get accustomed to their assigned tasks.
“Some students get their first job because of this class, and that’s what makes it so rewarding.” Dennard said.
Dennard’s passion for her work shows in the way she interacts with her students. She encourages and leads them as they try new things, giving them high fives and telling them that they did a great job and she is proud of them.
“It’s so rewarding. I look forward to coming to work each day,” Dennard said.
Dennard has worked in the district for 18 years, with 10 of those years spent at the OEC, working on vocational training and restorative relationships. In addition to her classes, she works with students to help when they first arrive at the school or are struggling to make friends.
“Miss D builds great relationships with students,” said Patrick Clymer, the coordinator of special education. “Her expertise in restorative practices has been invaluable and helps get students back on course after incidents.”
When not helping her students develop skills at the OEC, Dennard enjoys spending time with her family and singing karaoke. One of her favorite things to do is cook a seafood gumbo for her family so that they can all gather and enjoy it together.