SHABBONA – Stephanie Snider says she likes to approach life, and work, in the service of others.
She’s taken that approach for the past 14 years working in special education at Indian Creek High School in Shabbona.
“I’ve always been a proponent of just serving people, and being a servant leader and just showing people the compassion and grace that I feel like people have bestowed to me in the past,” Snider said.
At Indian Creek, Snider teaches all levels of high school. Unlike more traditional approaches to special education, Snider’s students get a fully inclusive approach to their school. They attend the same classes as their peers, and Snider co-teaches the whole classroom while helping make sure her students with special needs manage their Individualized Education Program goals.
The daughter of a longtime teacher, Snider grew up in the Plano area and didn’t find her educator footing immediately.
“I kind of resisted the whole field,” Snider said. “My mom was a teacher in Somonauk and I think that was why I resisted it for so long, because I saw that it’s not an easy profession. It seems glamorous and you have your summers at home, but you don’t get your summers off. It’s not as easy that.”
As an Eastern Illinois University undergraduate student, Snider initially pursued broadcast journalism. She decided on a different path after a professor told her the long odds of communications graduates finding jobs in their field.
By the end of her freshman year, Snider said, she instead settled on special education, rekindled by an experience years before as a student at Plano High School.
“They had a program [where] I would volunteer in a third grade classroom every other day,” Snider said. “I worked one-on-one with a little girl who had just moved into the district from CPU [Chicago Public Schools] and it was very apparent that she had some large gaps in her education.”
As a high school senior, Snider worked closely with the child to better develop her primary skills, an experience she considers as pivotal to her career.
“It was amazing even as an 18-year-old to have that impact on that little girl and be able to teach her the skillset that she was missing,” Snider said.
While pursuing special education, Snider student-taught and then worked as a kindergarten and first grade diagnostic teacher with Kendall County Special Education Cooperative. Soon after, she was hired in Yorkville schools but realized she wanted to pursue an older aged classroom, which led her to Indian Creek High School.
“I think that’s kind of my sweet spot, honestly,” Snider said. “There’s something magical that happens between that sophomore and junior year. They kind of morph into these young adults that have goals and aspirations and are looking towards the future. I really like being able to form relationships at that age level.”
As a high school special education teacher, Snider juggles a caseload of about 13 students, and teaches two freshmen English classes, a junior and senior English class, world geography and modern America, and a history class.
At Indian Creek, the co-teaching model stands as a testament to inclusive learning, said high school principal K.C. McCarty, who heralded Snider’s work.
“Stephanie has taken a lead in bringing a co-teaching model to our high school,” McCarty said. “Stephanie is consistently working with all of our students to provide them with the support and accommodations necessary to be successful.”
In her freshman English class, for example, three out of the 19 students also receive special education components to their daily work. But they sit in on the regular classes like their peers.
Snider called that approach huge.
“I think we have seek huge growth not only academically but socially for our kids,” Snider said. “Not having that stigma of always being pulled out of the classroom. I think it’s been a great learning opportunity for the students that are just in the regular classroom also. We see a lot of collaboration among our students helping each other out.”
McCarty said Snider’s also spent the past three school years serving as a cheerleader to her colleagues, creating a birthday party day for all the staff, a 12-days-of-Christmas program, day-long bingo and other morale boosting activities.
Snider called it the Sunshine Committee, and said she’s been doing it for the better part of a decade at the high school.
Snider, who calls Somonauk home with her husband, Eric, and two children, 10-year-old Clara and 12-year-old Porter, said a positive attitude is her way of giving back.
“I’m a mom and a wife, and I just want folks to know that as difficult as our job is and especially the last couple years, we are making a difference.”