32-year teaching partners a boon to special students

2009-03-08T00:00:00Z 32-year teaching partners a boon to special studentsBy Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

On a clear day with unspoiled vistas, high school teachers Randy Spalding and Wendy Enriquez might sound like they're giving a weather report.

"I might say, 'I see a lot of clouds' or he might say, 'It sure is cloudy right now,' " Enriquez said.

They're not mimicking television meteorologist Jimmy Stewart. It's their way to call for a timeout.

"We stop what we're doing to step away immediately and discuss the issue," Spalding said.

Apparently it's worked.

For 32 years, Spalding and Enriquez have co-taught developmentally disabled students, first at Lynn-Urquides Elementary School and now at Pueblo Magnet High School.

Even before Enriquez and Spalding became co-teachers, Enriquez student-taught for a semester in Spalding's class at the former Gump Special Education School.

Their longevity is rare in public education.

"I would probably say so," said Pueblo Principal Patricia Dienz, who has been an educator since 1976.

Dienz believes the longtime pairing is unusual but knows it is invaluable for the students.

"They go to bat for their students and parents every day," said Dienz.

Spalding, 58, and Enriquez, 57, said their lasting professional relationship is the result of shared philosophies and goals. Their common sensibilities have led to mutual respect and minimal disagreements. They listen to one another and allow each other to have a say.

"We enjoy our jobs and we have fun," Enriquez said.

Their fun comes from guiding and shaping the growth of their exceptional-education students with mild and moderate developmental disabilities. Some are limited in their speaking and cognitive abilities. Others have some physical challenges in addition.

At Pueblo, on South 12th Avenue near West Ajo Way, Enriquez and Spalding have been with the Community Based Instruction Program since 1988. They are part of a larger team with fellow teachers Ruben Fierros and Martha Tellez-Peru, and teaching assistants Beverley Blackwater, Indelisa Mendebles, Gloria Quihuis, Joseph Gomez, Dianne Hoy and Linda Molina.

The team works with the students, who range in age from 14 to 22, to give them life skills, helping them achieve the greatest possible degree of independence, Spalding said.

One day a week the staff takes the students, 45 to 50 in any given year, out of school and into the community. They break into small groups and engage in myriad activities: grocery-shopping, riding the bus, attending public events.

"The community is our classroom," said Spalding.

He likes to say, "You don't teach someone how to swim in your living room."

One day last week the students separated into two groups for their weekly "advisory" session. Nearly 20 students sat around several tables and practiced introducing themselves to new people. Spalding and Enriquez patiently demonstrated how to greet a person, shake hands and look into the eyes of people they meet.

The older students have paying jobs or volunteer outside the classroom. The younger students attend mainstream classes, which helps all students be more open to people who aren't like them.

"Pueblo has been a very accepting place for us," Spalding said.

Spalding and Enriquez are as close outside the classroom as they are inside.

They are co-sponsors of Pueblo's Gay-Straight Alliance, a student group that promotes equality, safety and civil rights among all students, including those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

One of Enriquez's three children got married in the backyard of Spalding's home.

They are together so much that Enriquez jokingly calls Spalding her "second husband." After all, she spends more time with him during the school year than she does with her husband. And her husband is a math teacher at Pueblo.

It's this tight, mutually enjoyable relationship that has fomented passion for the students and, in turn, developed a strong reputation for the program, said Principal Dienz.

"Parents want their children in the program," said Dienz, who's been principal for five years.

Enriquez and Spalding also have the common experience of growing up in border communities. Enriquez is from Douglas and Spalding came from Yuma.

All this shared experience and commitment has led to a special pact about when either one decides to stop teaching.

"We have an agreement," said Spalding. "Neither one of us will retire without the other's permission."

And when they do retire, it will be a cloudy day at Pueblo.

Did You Know

Tucson Unified School District has 7,885 students in Exceptional Education. Before Exceptional Education, TUSD called its programs Special Education and later Adaptive Education.

Exceptional Education programs are for students with severe or moderate developmental disabilities and special needs.

All of the district's high schools have Community Based Instruction programs, which prepare students with "disabilities to make the transition from school to community life." They involve "the systematic teaching of life skills in real environments."

Source: TUSD

Reporter Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. has deep roots here. His maternal grandparents came to Tucson in 1931. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Argentine-born Onofre Navarro, lived in Tucson beginning in the 1860s. Portillo can be contacted at 807-8414 or eportillo@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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