Position: Special Education Teacher
School: White Pines Intermediate School
School District: Grand Haven Area Public Schools
City, State: Grand Haven, Michigan
About the Nominee: Ms. Oppenlander is in the beginning of her seventh year middle school children with severe, multiple handicaps. The passion for her students is seen daily and year-round. In addition to teaching students during normal hours, Ms. Oppenlander devotes her personal time throughout the summer to take them on outings and to foster the relationships that she has developed with them and their parents. She encourages each one of her students to continue reaching milestones and achievements that they didn't know were possible. During the five years that she has most of her students, she works with them individually to prepare them for high school and the years beyond. Ms. Oppenlander believes in Community-Based Instruction and taking her students on weekly outings. These outings include trips to the local markets, swimming at the pool, visiting the elderly at a nearby Assisted Living Center. Her goal is to provide opportunities for adaptive experiences that allow her students to interact with others and feel included in society, while working of functional skills. Ms. Oppenlander believes in inclusion for all students. She helps each student be successful in a general education classroom to work on generalizing socialization skills. Her motto is “All Kids Can” and “Nothing is Impossible”. These beliefs are acted out in her lessons and modifications a she helps each student reach new goals and learn new skills. Most of her students are in her room for five years. During this time, she works with them individually to prepare them for high school and the years beyond. Ms. Oppenlander and her team work diligently to help her students learn life skills in the areas of mobility, communication, functional skills and academics. The skills and goals the students reach are life changers for the students and their families.
Ms. Oppenlander was a student athlete during college, playing tennis at Grand Valley State University. She has brought her love of tennis to her students by hosting events at the local tennis club. Even though many of her students are severely handicapped, they love nights on the tennis court and have fun while learning a sport. She is Michigan's representative to the United States Tennis Association's Adaptive Tennis Program. Ms. Oppenlander also helps build connections and community between varsity high school sports team and special education students as the Grand Haven liaison for a local organization called No More Sidelines.