Our community is fortunate to have so many outstanding teachers and staff in our public schools, but Ruth Morgan stands out as a leader and consistent advocate for students with special needs. Ms. Morgan, who worked for 25 years as a speech language pathologist at Ephesus Elementary, is retiring this month and she will be greatly missed by students, staff and families.
Ms. Morgan graduated from Kent State University with a degree in Deaf Education in 1979, just a few years after the Education for All Handicapped Children Act passed in 1975. Before this critically important legislation was enacted, many states had laws which specifically prohibited children with disabilities from attending public schools.
Ruth taught at the Kent School for the Deaf and at other schools in Northern Virginia before beginning her career in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in 1992. Special Education in public schools was still a new world at the time, and Ruth was instrumental in making sure that special-needs students were truly educated and included as the law intended.
An early adopter of technology, Ms. Morgan went beyond her job description to help to pioneer the use of assistive technology in the district. In 1994, she persuaded the district to purchase Message Mate, a technology that helped students with communications struggles, resulting in better understanding of and less frustration and tantrums from students. As one parent described it, Ruth worked “Miracles!” She was one of the first to recognize the value of the iPad as a communication tool and has been a go-to source for reviews on communication apps. Her blog Chapel Hill Snippets http://chapelhillsnippets.blogspot.com/ is referred to by teachers and therapists throughout the nation and the world.
Technology is just a tool for Ruth; her real skill is establishing trust and reciprocal relationships with her students. One parent recounts how Ruth used singing to help her minimally verbal daughter speak with the song “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” A special-needs teacher explained, “Ruth’s happiest moments were coming into my classroom, after a therapy session in her room with one of our shared students, and showing me a new skill the child had just learned and how I could use it in my classroom and throughout the rest of the school. She would have a beaming smile and glow about her when she shared the news.”
Over the years Ms. Morgan had many Speech Language Pathology graduate students shadow her to gain practical experience. In 2014, Ms. Morgan won the Lara Jane Parker award from the New Voices Foundation outstanding individuals in the public schools who directly serve or advocate for children with both physical and communication challenges. It was no surprise that the other award that year went to one of her former mentees.
What really makes Ruth stand out as a therapist and an educator, is her commitment to the idea that everyone, no matter the extent of their disability, has the right to communicate to the best of their ability. Ms. Morgan has always had high expectations of her students and the utmost respect for them as individuals. This, in part, has garnered her a devoted following by her students and their families. Ruth has continued to work with many of her former elementary school students who are now young adults.
Our community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Ms. Morgan for her years of service in our schools. As one of her colleagues explained, “Working with Ruth was one of my greatest joys of teaching at Ephesus and an honor that I know many others cherish with me.”
Lisa Kaylie is the secretary of the CHCCS Special Needs Advisory Council.