“My focus has always been helping all students to learn and be their best through home supports, differentiation, effective co-teaching practices and positive behavior supports,” Chester said.
Occupation/Title: Parent Mentor and Co-Teaching Support Teacher
City of Residence: Cartersville (since 1986)
Family: Husband Chris Chester (health inspector and home appraisals on side); son, Payton Chester (14 years old, attends Cass Middle, Beta Club, member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, involved in football, wrestling, track, chorus, piano, church activities); daughter, Haley Chester (12 years old, attends Cass Middle School, involved in special needs dance at Steps of Faith and Special Needs Cheerleading with Challenger Sports, and church activities); son, Sam Chester (the caboose at 23 months old, very active, loves all things with balls and anything with his big brother and sister)
Education: I have my undergraduate degree in elementary education and my master’s in special education.
Q: How long have you been working in education?
A: I began teaching in 1996. The past 16 years have been spent working with teachers, parents and students in many settings. I worked as a long-term sub for Cartersville City Schools in the spring of 1996. In the fall of 1996, I was a fifth-grade teacher at Taylorsville Elementary for several years.
After my middle child was born with Cerebral Palsy, I began working as a hospital/homebound teacher in Bartow County for students who were too sick to go to school. In 2004, the Georgia Department of Education started a new part-time program in which parents of children with special needs would partner with the schools to work with other parents of children with special needs. (http://www.parentmentors.org/) I have continued to work part time as parent mentor for the past seven years. As parent mentor, I work with parents who have children with special needs by attending meetings with them, explaining the law, exploring community resources for home support, planning for the future, etc. I also work with teachers and administrators to help them understand the perspective of a parent who has a child with special needs. All of this is done to form an effective team that supports the child.
In 2005, I became an educational consultant for Wesley Educational Services and Northwest Georgia Learning Resources System. In 2010, I came back to Bartow County Schools on a full-time basis as co-teaching support teacher — support our teachers who co-teach in inclusion classes — and parent mentor.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: This is a hard question because I do not feel comfortable taking credit for any successes I’ve witnessed. I always work as a team with others, so it’s never something I do alone. However, here are a few of my greatest collaboration moments.
First, I am most proud of the angel ministry in our church. On Feb. 4, 2007, our church embraced a special needs ministry that my husband and I felt led to start. Oakland Heights Baptist Church Angel Ministry supports families of children with special needs by providing an angel helper for each child during Sunday Services and provides multiple respite opportunities throughout the year. Our last respite was in December, and we had over 140 people in attendance.
Second, I am honored to have received distinguishing honors, including the 2011 Phil Pickens Award and 2010 Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ C. Anthony Cunningham Council Member of the Year Award.
In addition, I am honored to serve with Wendy Allen on our Bartow Navigator Team.
Personally, I don’t see this as an achievement, but I am most proud of my family. My children and husband inspire and support me in all my endeavors. I love how my wild ideas somehow become family projects. I enjoy working alongside my family to support other families.
Q: What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?
A: First thing that pops in my mind is that I love Peanut M&Ms. I can eat a 1-pound bag in less than 24 hours and do so about once a week. This is probably not what you mean though. The second thing that pops in my mind is that I love a good bargain, so I enjoy shopping at consignment stores and Goodwill. I’m not a very interesting person and those who know me, know me — not many surprises. You get what you see.
Q: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow?
A: My home with my family is my all-time favorite place to be, but we are rarely home together because we are always running to a school, church or community event.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant or favorite food?
A: I have to be careful here, since my husband is one of the county health inspectors (laughs). This next statement is an understatement, but print cannot express it adequately: I love Mexican. My three favorite Mexican restaurants are On the Border, Tarascos and Las Palmas. I could eat it every single day. And, obviously, I love Peanut M&Ms. So, give me chips and salsa and Peanut M&Ms and I am a happy lady.
Q: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
A: Determined; unworthy — of all the blessings I have been given; and thankful — for all of my family and friends and opportunities to work alongside incredible people who understand the challenges and blessings of children with special needs.
Q: How do you like to spend your spare time?
A: Spare time? What is that? Well, on these rare occasions, I love to have game night at my house with friends and family. I love to hike to the top of Pine Mountain or Kennesaw Mountain. I love to run on the treadmill. I love to play hide and seek with the baby as a family. I love to visit an accessible playground in Calhoun with my family. I love to see any of my children participating in the many activities they are involved in. I love to watch a good movie with my husband.
Q: Do you have a personal philosophy?
A: Yes, my mother died at 47 years old. That experience forever changed me. My philosophy is, “No regrets.” Do what you need to do when you need to do it in the way you need to do it, so you will have no regrets. You didn’t ask this, but along with philosophy, I love the song “Do Everything” by Steven Curtis Chapman. A few of the lyrics — “Remember to do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you ... .”