PANAMA CITY- This week's Golden Apple award winner teaches autistic students at Merritt Brown Middle School. Tracey Watts was nominated by a parent, Kathy Latza, who writes: "Mrs. Watts is always exploring new and better teaching strategies, researching new technology and educational tools, paying attention to what motivates her students as a group and individually understanding their strengths as well as their needs, resulting in her kids being the best they can be!"
In Mrs. Watts classroom every learning gain is celebrated, no matter how small. And sometimes with time, research, and technology, major breakthroughs occur. "One of the indicators of autism spectrum disorder is that our students have difficulty with communication. This particular student does not have a voice. She doesn't speak, she does have some words, but she really does not speak," explained Mrs. Watts. Thanks to an iPad, Sierra's thoughts are no longer locked inside. "Starting last year we were able to get some really deep thoughts out of her. Whereas before we had no idea of what was going on," said Mrs. Watts. That's just one example of the way she individualizes her teaching strategies to advocate for her students best.
"The autism spectrum requires a teacher to be super sensitive to students' sensitivity to light, sounds, attitudes. It requires a special touch, if you will, and Tracey has that," said Principal Charlotte Marshall. "She is very gentle and kind, reassuring, it makes our parents and students feel welcome at school every single day." "My goal really is to help them communicate and to have their voices not only be used, but be heard," said Mrs. Watts.
"We do fun things in class," said student George Jackson. Known for her cow jokes, Mrs. Watts was thrilled when another student, Jackson, took pride in sharing this: "What do you call a cow that meows? Cattle!"