While most of the students were out to lunch that day, there was one Gastineau Elementary student who had asked teacher Janarose Odenheimer to read a book with him. The topics concerned plate tectonics and volcanism, and from time to time Janarose would pause to ask the student questions regarding the material they had covered.
“What islands are really warm and tropical, and are hot spots?” Ms. O asks. The student is excited to respond, but has his mind set on answering another question.
“Yeah because…” the student responds, and Ms. O begins to give a little help.
“What islands are those called?” she asks again and begins to answer the question by slowly saying “Ha…”
“Hawaii!” the student yells and Janarose laughs as he explains the answer he originally wanted to give.
“Yeah because how islands were made are because underwater volcanoes and when the lava goes up in the air and dried up it created an island.”
Known at Gastineau Elementary School as Ms. O, Janarose is a special education teacher for the Juneau School District’s Behavior Education Support Team, or B.E.S.T, for kindergarten through fifth grade. Janarose does not have a set classroom at Gastineau, but instead works with students throughout the school who have difficulties with social-emotional skills. The 2014 Gastineau Elementary Handbook defines special education programs to be programs that are “provided to students who qualify as having a learning disability, communicative disorder, emotional/behavioral disorder, or other special needs.” The Juneau School District has five teachers in the Behavior Education Support Team. Special education specialists and assistants join them to help students in need of behavioral support. Janarose is the only B.E.S.T teacher at Gastineau Elementary School.
“We have students with a variety of special needs in Juneau and [behaviors] is one area of that,” said Dr. Bridget Weiss, the District’s Director of Student Services. Dr. Weiss estimates that around 60 JSD students are served through the B.E.S.T. program and more than 850 students in special education programs. The school district’s budget has not reduced special education teacher positions this year, which is unlike what happened just a few years ago.
“Four years ago now — the year before I got here — special education did take a pretty big cut to the number of teachers,” Weiss said. “We’re starting our fourth year with our new staffing that we have from that.” Some positions lost included school psychology support, and speech and language.
This year marks Janarose’s 16th year as a special education teacher. She first began with EagleCrest Academy in Sitka, then Bartlett High in Anchorage, to now in her current position at Gastineau.
“(Students) always want to be just like everybody else — I try to make it as mutual as possible and help everybody at the same time because when you’re helping everybody, you’re being a good role model for that student who may be struggling,” Janarose said. “It’s kind of like being a life coach.”
Janarose views her work as an opportunity to help students be successful both as individuals and as learners. Each student has unique needs, so Janarose has to craft ways to meet them. As such, her work can be creative.
“I had one little girl — she would write everything in pencil, but in order for her to remember the notes for class, she would then go over the notes in color pencils and make it a complete rainbow just so she could read it,” Odenheimer said. “It was something as simple as that. We were playing around with color and she was like ‘Oh, I can see better with this’ and she started realizing that if she wrote like that, she could.”
Janarose Odenheimer was nominated for People of Juneau by Nona Dimond, who highlighted Janarose’s compassion for students and their parents. Her nomination was seconded by Juneau Empire reporter Kevin Gullufsen, a former substitute teacher, who said Janarose has one of the toughest jobs in town, but “meets each day with optimism.”
Know someone who brings sunlight to our town? Nominate them for #PPLofJNU.
• Ray Friedlander is a Douglas writer who contributes the monthly People of Juneau feature to the Juneau Empire. To nominate someone for a profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “People of Juneau” in the subject line. Includes your name, contact information, the name of the nominee and their contact information, plus why you think they deserve it.