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news News Wednesday, November 1, 2017 Sunday, November 12, 2017 12:59 PM - Sunday, November 12, 2017 12:59 PM

Teacher recalls how training at the Tampa Shriners Hospital made her better able to help students with special needs

Deana Mann taught in the former Homebound Teaching Program

By Mary Schille 

Shortly before I graduated from the University of South Florida in 2015, I started volunteering at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa. I was inspired to help the hospital since my twin sister and I were born with cerebral palsy. Because I have cerebral palsy, I was required to take classes that were designed to teach students with special needs. My classmates in these courses all had special needs, including cerebral palsy, osteogenesis imperfecta and severe burns. I attended these courses the entire time I went to school. Consequently, my classmates and I became close friends. Many of those I befriended were longtime patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa. Because of these relationships, serving in the hospital’s public relations and development departments is important to me. Often, I serve our hospital most effectively by writing articles about our patients and volunteers and recounting my own experiences of having special needs. 

The stories I wrote inspired me to reconnect with a special education teacher who encouraged me to go to college. Deana Mann did her student teaching at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa and was one of the best teachers I ever had. In addition to academic fundamentals, she taught us life skills such as budgeting and cooking, which would serve us well in the real world. I went on social media and started searching. I wanted to tell Mrs. Mann how her expertise, dedication and caring helped me and many of my classmates to overcome tremendous obstacles and achieve success. A short time later, I found Mrs. Mann on Facebook and began communicating with her regularly. Therefore, Shriners Hospitals for Children —Tampa has had a ripple effect on the lives of my teachers, friends and myself, the impact of which still resonates today.

Although Mrs. Mann taught my class for a short time, she improved our lives dramatically. Mrs. Mann’s son, Richard, was born visually impaired and autistic. Her experiences as the mother of a child with special needs inspired her to teach special needs students. Mrs. Mann went back to school at the University of South Florida and majored in specific learning disabilities education. In 1990, Mrs. Mann worked in the Homebound Teaching Program at the Tampa Shriners Hospital. As part of her training to finish her degree, Mrs. Mann did supervised student teaching at the hospital twice a week for a semester. The program helped Mrs. Mann take her first steps toward becoming the gifted teacher my friends and I adored.

"Teaching at Shriners was a wonderful experience,” Mrs. Mann recalled. “I was a bit nervous having to be prepared for so many different subjects on different levels, but my supervising teacher said to just remember that I know more than the students I would be working with. She said I only needed to be a few steps ahead of them. Being in my 20s, I did not feel that much older than some of the high school age students I was working with, but my supervising teacher's advice helped me to feel a lot more confident."

She recalled being inspired by a patient who had lost both legs in a farming accident.

“He had a remarkable positive attitude that he was not going to let anything including his accident deter him from his dreams,” she said. “He said he simply had to figure out ways to do things differently."

Mrs. Mann described the atmosphere at the hospital as one of hope. "Regardless of their circumstances, all the students I met were hopeful about their future. I loved the resilience of their spirit,” she said. “Everyone was positive and upbeat. It was like a warm inviting family. It did not feel like a hospital."

Her biggest takeaway? "Look for the positive in every situation, and look for different ways to accomplish things."

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