National Recognition

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ECU student Sara Graves, right, stands with her buddy Kathryn Frye at the Special Olympics April 18 at Rose High School. Graves received a national award for her work with special-needs children. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU junior honored for her work with students with special needs

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

An East Carolina University junior has earned a national award for her work with school-aged students who have special needs.

The Council for Exceptional Children named Sara Graves their 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Member of the Year. The Charlotte native studies adapted special education, which focuses on developing curriculum for severe and profoundly disabled students. She plans to teach high school.

Graves traveled to Denver, Colo., in April to accept the award at the organization’s national convention.

“I knew I was going to be nominated, but then I got an email with an official letter in it,” she said. “I kind of freaked out. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was.”

“Sara is a visionary and her ideas are creative and well received,” said Debbie Metcalf, a teacher-in-residence with the College of Education and co-advisor of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Student Association at ECU. “Just when you think the organization couldn’t do anything else, she comes up with something new and keeps everyone pushing forward.”

“She sets high standards for herself and for all those around her. She is everything a professor, parent and student would wish for in a person and future teacher.”

Graves became interested in the needs of students with disabilities after she was placed as a student assistant in a special education classroom at Independence High School.

“They kind of stuck me into the special ed classrooms…to help out if needed,” she explained. “So I went in there and just really loved it, really enjoyed hanging out with (the students).”

She said her time at ECU has taught her to think creatively and grown her love for the unique population she serves.

“I love the joy that is always present,” Graves said. “There definitely are hard times and it’s very challenging because there’s always a barrier, there’s always a hurdle that you have to get over with (the students). It’s a lot of trial and error but it’s so much fun trying to get there with them.”

Graves is president of the ECU Student Council for Exceptional Children and represents North Carolina on the national student council. She worked with students with special needs at the YMCA and Metro School for disabled students in Charlotte, and at the Special Olympics Pitt County and A Small Miracle in Greenville.

Graves is also an Apple Ambassador at ECU, charged with recruiting students to the College of Education. She hopes to find work in Greenville next year after graduation.

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