Dec. 5—Melody Scales started substitute teaching to help her choose a specialty, and she found her calling.
"I fell in love with the special education classes," Scales, 27, said. "I like working with the kids, and it's very rewarding seeing the progress that they can make. You really learn how to appreciate life and appreciate just the small achievements."
Now, she's taking online classes through the University of West Alabama to get her master's degree as a special education teacher, working as a special education aide at Decatur High and working part time at the Arc of Morgan County.
Scales said she particularly wanted to work at the Arc, which serves those ages 3 to 21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities or special needs.
"I'd been wanting to get into either tutoring or some type of after-school care. ... I ultimately wanted to work here," Scales said. "More experience with kids, especially in the field I'm going into, it's always a plus for me."
Abby Smith, who started out 12 years ago as the Arc of Morgan County's program director and six years ago became the office administrator, said there are currently seven paid staff members and 15 kids in the program. The amount of staff and number of kids varies depending on the time of year.
The Arc, located at 2234 Graham Ave. S.W. in the neighborhood just south of the Danville Road Pay-Less Pharmacy, provides daily supervision and activities for clients, although some don't arrive until after school during the academic year.
On a typical day during the summer program at the Arc, Scales said, the clients start out with breakfast and then they move to the playroom. Other activities include movie watching and creating arts and crafts.
During lunch, "We kind of alternate with responsibilities as far as feeding some of the kids because some of them can't eat on their own," Scales said.
When Scales begins her final semester of school next year, she will be student teaching, but still plans to continue working at the Arc.
"I hope to work here still when I become a teacher."
Scales said she has gained many skills at the Arc that will help her in her career, including "learning to manage and deal with behaviors, because we have a lot of kids with different behaviors. Learning how to communicate. Some kids are non-verbal, some just have a hard time understanding and you have to really break down certain things to them."
"And I think, learning how to figure out what they're trying to tell you, the ones that are non-verbal, (is an important skill). Because that's where I'm trying to get better at. I want to be able to know if they're hurting, hungry, what they need so I can make their lives a little easier. I can't imagine not being able to voice what I needed," Scales said.
From client to employee
Like Scales, Piper Holsclaw was motivated to work at the Arc.
"I like helping kids," Holsclaw said.
She also has a unique perspective, having learned skills through Arc programs.
Holsclaw, considered high functioning, was adopted from Russia when she was just 16 months old, according to her mother, Kelly Holsclaw. When she was 14, in 2016, Piper Holsclaw started in The Arc's program.
"It was very fun," Holsclaw said. "We got to go places."
Holsclaw graduated from the program in 2019. By May of 2021, the now 20-year-old Holsclaw, became an employee of The Arc, helping care for clients and handle odd jobs.
"If they need me to throw out the trash, I will," she said. "If they need me to go get something, I will. If a little kid needs help, I will. If a worker asks me to help them with something, I will."
The rest of the time, Holsclaw said, "I'm just watching the kids. Making sure they're being good, on their best behavior."
Holsclaw said she prefers working with the younger girls and boys. "They're a lot easier to work with," she joked.
Holsclaw said she wants to work at The Arc, at least for a couple of years, so she can get on her feet, which includes getting her driver's license.
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