Laying a Strong Foundation – A Day in the Life of Eileen Santiago – Special Education Teacher

March 31, 2017 | More People

It’s 8 a.m. and a small group of 15 and 16-year-old students are in the cafeteria at McArthur High in Hollywood. They are wiping the tables and helping reorganize the room.

Working with them is their teacher Eileen Santiago.  She’s giving them basic instructions on how to make sure the tables are clean. It’s not a typical task for students, but these aren’t your average kids. Her class17353280_10155067872548255_6135939810736230519_n includes teenagers with autism, intellectual disabilities, down syndrome, language and hearing impairment.

“I try to teach them these basic skills because, [for] a lot of them, when they get home everything is done for them. I want them to know what independence means,” explained the graduate of Broward College Teacher Education Program (TEP) as she holds Christina’s hand and guides the rag she’s using over each corner of the table.

“Great job Christina,” she says. The teenager flashes an excited smile.

Santiago is with the 13 students all day, teaching English, math, reading, social studies and social skills. “When you focus on special education, you have to use the methods that work. Your lesson plans have to be diverse and everything you do has to reinforce the curriculum.”

By 8:30 a.m. Santiago and Laurel Belfonte, her intern and TEP student in her final year at Broward College, help the teenagers wash up. Then, they form a line as they walk to the school library. There’s one more thing to do before they go to their homeroom: help the librarian restock the shelves with books that have been returned. This helps them count, learn the computer, and master the alphabet as they scan the books and put them back in alphabetical or numerical order.

An hour later they’re settled in the classroom. Today is special; they’re adding another item to their recipe books. They’re writing out the recipe they learned for special breakfast toasts yesterday. As part a grant program, Santiago takes her students on field trips to different restaurants nearby, where they’re taught how to make basic foods like salads, sandwiches, smoothies, hamburgers and pizza.

“How many strawberries do you need for two servings of the toast?” Five hands are swiftly raised.

“Working on their menus means they’re work on writing, spelling and typing on the computer. This is a big achievement,” she interjects before turning to hear the responses. The menus are also helping the students prepare for The Top Chef competition where they get to show off what they’ve learned to family, friends, and the rest of the school.


That’s a typical morning for Santiago. “When they come back we might do language arts. Today it may be Bingo on vocabulary or writing sentences. I use games because it allows them to practice social skills and team work.”

Santiago now holds a master’s degree from Nova University. She’s been at McArthur High less than a year, but she’s already made her mark. Over her five-year career, she has been recognized as Teacher of the Year, given a special award by Univision-TV and also benefitted from over $10,000 in grant funding from the Broward Education Foundation.

“It’s so rewarding. I wanted to do teaching because I love children but I never thought that I would go into special needs. At first I was scared but with the support I got from the advisors and professors at Broward College. I’m sure I’ve made the right choice.”

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Learn more about the Teacher Education Program [Link to:].

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