Chance job leads to new career helping students with disabilities

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NOTE: This story is part of a series on special education for Autism Awareness Month.

Makenzi Enos, of Rome, had planned on a career in communications, but a chance encounter changed the trajectory of her ambitions.

The first-year special education teacher works at Upstate Cerebral Palsy Tradewinds Education Center in Rome. The Tradewinds Education Center provides education to individuals between the ages of five and 21 who have been diagnosed with a severe behavioral and/or developmental disability.

A few years ago, Enos was working as a photojournalist for the Daily Sentinel. She was seeking second job and found a listing for “Substitute Teaching Assistants” at the Rome School District.

“I took the job for the opportunity to earn some extra money and little did I know my first day would completely change the course of my life,” Enos said. “My first day I was placed in a kindergarten room and I was assigned to work 1:1 with a student who had developmental disabilities in the general education classroom. I was completely untrained and uneducated on how to help her, but I knew I wanted to. That night I put in an application to Purdue University to pursue a master’s in special education, which I did online while working locally in Rome.”

Enos struggles with type one diabetes, and she believes having that condition helps her to connect with her students.

“Not many people understand my disability so I think that made me appreciate and want to learn how to help students who are largely underserved,” she said.

Enos started her career as a special education teacher this past October. She teaches a classroom of six students.

“The most surprising part of being a special education teacher is how every day, no matter what kind of day I am having personally, my students and the students throughout the school can put a smile on my face,” she said. “There isn’t a single day that they don’t make me smile and laugh. They are the best part of every day and I finally have a career that I honestly look forward to every day because I know at the end of the day I am making a positive impact on lives that will go well beyond the time in my classroom.”

In her short time working as a special education teacher, Enos has learned a lot.

“What I’ve learned since I’ve started in my profession is that it takes a village, literally,” she said. “On any given day there is a team of people that I work with to provide the best learning experience, social engagement and opportunities for my students. Collaboration is key to success and I am super lucky to have some of the best professionals I have ever worked with alongside me.”

Some of the teaching Enos enjoys most involves competency beyond the classroom.

“My favorite moments are working on Essentials for Living (EFL) goals,” she said. “These include objectives like social skills, vocational skills, daily living skills and functional skills. We go beyond teaching academic skills and teach skills that my students will use to become as independent as possible and happy. When my students meet and succeed in these goals I know that it’s a lifelong impact.”

Outside of work Enos enjoys spending time outside, fishing when possible and baking. She is involved with two side businesses, including Cast and Reel (fishing tackle and hand-tied harnesses) and Sweet Nellie’s (gourmet baked goods).

“I must say it sounds silly but even when I’m not working my brain is in work mode,” she said. “I’m often thinking and brainstorming on how I can improve the classroom and the time spent with my students.”

Despite the challenges that come with her job, Enos finds great satisfaction in her work.

“This field can be exhausting but it is so beyond worth it,” Enos said. “UCP is an organization that truly cares for their employees and offers so many supported pathways to success.”

College students who are currently studying in the field can apply for the Summer 2021 Undergraduate Externship and those interested in employment opportunities can also find that information on the website.

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