When at work, Lauren Huhta describes herself as a ping-pong ball.
As an exceptional student education teacher, she works with eight groups a day at Ormond Beach Elementary. Her days move at a fast pace as she helps students in kindergarten through fifth grade with reading and math. She definitely gets her steps in, but Huhta said she wouldn't have it any other way.
“My heart is in my role that I do now as ESE support facilitation," she said. "I love what I do.”
Earlier in the spring, Huhta was recognized as the Volusia County Council for Exceptional Children Chapter no. 563's Elementary ESE Teacher of the Year. She was supposed to be celebrated along with the other winners in a banquet in April, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Those winners included two other Ormond Beach educators, both from Ormond Beach Middle School: Teacher Cassandra Reyes and Assistant Principal Karen Mitchell.
When Huhta got word that she had won the recognition — for which she was nominated by her principal Shannon Hays, Academic Coach Julie Reheiser and teaching partner Jamie Kaminski — Huhta said she was humbled.
She's been teaching for seven years, the last four of which have been at OBE.
“I don’t really tell the kids I’m an ESE teacher," Huhta said. "I tell the kids I’m a bonus teacher. My heart is with inclusion and mainstreaming.”
Huhta, and Ormond Beach resident and Seabreeze High School alumna, always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but it was growing up with her twin cousins that led her heart to ESE. Both cousins are autistic, and Huhta said they taught her so much growing up, including patience and need to be accepting.
She doesn't like to use the word disability. One of her earliest memories is someone asking her what was "wrong" with her cousins. Huhta didn't understand what they meant.
"I never looked at disabilities as being something wrong with somebody," she said. "I was always taught that it’s more of like a difference.”
It's why she prefers to use the word exceptionality. She works with students that have exceptionalities like dyslexia and dysgraphia who are in general education classrooms. Her goal is to support them to be able to access the same grade level standards as their peers.
“Everyone is capable of learning," Huhta said. "It just looks different for everybody and everybody has their own pace.”
A rite of passage
Huhta is also known for tie-dye at Ormond Beach Elementary. She even tie-dyed her own mask for this school year.
It all began when she was a student at the University of Central Florida. She loved the colors and enjoyed partaking in the craft.
So, she decided to make them for her students. It's become a rite of passage for all her fifth graders to receive one at the end of the year, though some students will save OBE bear bucks to get one before then. She's run into former students who tell her they still wear them.
Her favorite thing about being a teacher though, is seeing her students succeed in the classroom.
“I really enjoy seeing the lightbulb moments when a kid has really been struggling with something, and they start to get it, and their confidence rises," Huhta said. "And then what really makes my heart happy is when a child that was struggling with something, finally gets it and is able to show somebody else.”