Kim Hamilton’s joy is teaching children, but her true passion is teaching children with special needs and disabilities. Some of her students cannot communicate and must use electronic buttons to make their wishes known. Some are children with severe syndromes where just a simple X or Y makes the difference between a normal existence or life on oxygen or in a wheelchair. It’s these children that Mrs. Hamilton cherishes and gives a better life all because of a program that began sixteen years ago at Herty Primary.
She said, “I’ve been drawn to it my whole life. It gets in your heart and soul and you can’t shake it.”
Growing up in Michigan, she attended a small school with only 43 graduates. Among her school activities and events, she would volunteer for Special Olympics. After high school, she attended Northeastern Michigan College and received a degree in criminal justice. She went to the Kilgore Police Academy and worked one year at the Palestine Police Department. According to Mrs. Hamilton, working in law enforcement in the 1980’s wasn’t very popular for ladies.
“I was the only female with an education in criminal justice. I felt like I was a trendsetter. It wasn’t easy doing shift work, working evenings. I wanted a family so I went back to school,” said Mrs. Hamilton.
Her second degree was in Special Education from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her first job was teaching Kindergarten and second grade PE. She was also a coach.
She said, “I coached and that wasn’t conducive to having a family either. The girls wanted me to be a friend not a coach, because I was so young, so I settled into special education.”
She has worked in education for 36 years total. She was at Nacogdoches working in secondary education when she found out about the possibility of a program at Herty Primary for special needs students age three through seven. She and Lark Silvey, who also came from a secondary background, began the PPCD program sixteen years ago that is still in existence today.
According to Mrs. Hamilton, the beauty of the program is that students are all under one roof and can have the special attention they require from the highly trained staff. The program is for three and four-year-olds, kindergartners, and first and second grade students. After third grade, the student moves to another program.
She said, “We take them where they are. It’s a team effort between campus administrators, teachers, and parents. Each student has a plan. The goal is to mainstream them in to regular ed. Sometimes they are able to go to their home campus. One student went into the PACE program. Our district is so great to allow kids to have this program.”
Mrs. Hamilton is an early riser and gets up each morning at 4:30 a.m. She drives in from Nacogdoches in time for a 30-minute walk around the track at Herty to help get her day together. The students begin to arrive at 7:15 a.m. The special needs children come on different buses than the other students and go to breakfast at 8 a.m. when the other students are in their classrooms. By the time 8:30 a.m. rolls around, the students are beginning their day with interactive story time with everyone together. The staff works with their students on their motor skills like learning how to walk, balance, and coordination.
She said, “We want to promote independence. We teach self-help like potty training, washing hands, daily living. We have state mandated pre-k guidelines that we adhere to. Each student has an IEP, which is an Individual Education Program, that goes with the child. We do a play-based assessment to see if the student needs occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, or a diagnostician.”
In the beginning years of the program, Deidra Harrison was the director of special ed services and made an impact on Mrs. Hamilton.
She said, “Deidra was our number one cheerleader. We would bring crazy ideas, and she would tell us to just do it. We started the Young Athletes Program. Special Olympics is only for ages 8 through 99. We wanted to do something for our kids.”
In her spare time, Mrs. Hamilton loves to travel. Although her husband of 39 years would rather go fishing, Mrs. Hamilton and her “tribe” of girlfriends have travelled the world. She and her husband have known each other a long time and even went to the same high school.
She said, “I still call him my boyfriend. We’ve been hanging out a long time.”
Together, they have two daughters who both went into careers for caring for others. Her oldest daughter is a Licensed Professional Counselor for the Anderson County Special Education Co-op and her younger daughter is a Physician’s Assistant for Skyview in Rusk State Hospital.
She said, “I have three grands and two bonuses. They call me ‘Grandma’ but it sounds like “Guandma” because they can’t pronounce their r’s.”
Mrs. Hamilton loves what she does and values how the district takes care of our special needs population. It’s a job that she’s passionate about and says requires a lot of patience.
She said, “They’re just kids. They want to be treated like everyone else. They want to be loved, and we have a lot of that to go around. It’s a good place for kids to be.”
Thank you, Mrs. Hamilton, for bringing your expertise and kind heart to work every day for these children. It’s a blessing to be in their presence, as well as being in yours.