Puzzle pieces offer mystery. They are a small piece of a complex, larger picture. Standing alone, a puzzle piece is merely a possibility, but put into the context of a larger picture and it is beautiful. A puzzle is an insightful symbol for autism. A piece of the puzzle at Boltz Middle School is teacher Madeleine van Oppen. Her positivity and passion for her students sets the tone in her classroom – students are more than the sum of their disability. Integrated Services coach Erin Coy describes Madeleine as “a wonderful advocate for her students and her program”.
Here is Madeleine in her own words:
“My name is Madeleine van Oppen and I am one of the two teachers of the center based autism program at Boltz Middle School. I enjoy dancing, spending time with family and my dog, baking, and participating in any outdoor activities with my friends. I am originally from the Netherlands and moved to Fort Collins when I was in sixth grade. I have four brothers, three of whom still live in the Netherlands, and one who lives in Fort Collins as well. My parents live in Fort Collins, while my extended family all live in Europe. I moved back to the Netherlands when I graduated high school to attend the University of Amsterdam originally to pursue a future in dance (ballet, jazz/modern), but decided to come back to Fort Collins after my freshman year.
I enrolled at Colorado State University, shifted my focus and majored in Human Development and Family Studies. I got a job working as a care provider for children who had intellectual disabilities. I became involved in every volunteer program CSU had to offer, spending time with kids and adults with intellectual disabilities, including Special Needs Swim and TGIF. My senior year I became a research assistant for a professor who was studying developmental milestones in young kids with Autism.
Upon graduation, the principal and classroom teacher I interned with in college hired me as a special education paraprofessional. While working as a paraprofessional, I explored other career options. I worked as a class assistant for the Colorado Foundation of Conductive Education (an alternative therapy for kids with muscular disorders), as a nanny for a boy with special needs and as a private tutor. After two years of just working I decided I was sure I wanted to become a special education teacher and pursued my master’s in special education. While going to school I managed to keep working as a special education paraprofessional and also became a direct support associate for an adult with an intellectual disability to gain more experience in transitions to adulthood. I finished my degree with a Special Education-Generalist from the University of Northern Colorado in December 2014.
I was hired as a teacher in the program at Boltz shortly thereafter and I absolutely love it here. Since then, the other autism teacher, Bonnie Beach, the ILS teacher Stacy Denham, paraprofessionals and myself have worked together to support all of our students with extensive needs as a team instead of as separate programs. What I love most about my job is that there is never a dull moment and not one day is ever like another. I love watching my students learn, have fun, laugh, and seeing them take pride in what they have learned. We all have so much fun together, and students and staff really just work as one big team here.”
We are fortunate to have the educators we do in Poudre School District.
Poudre School District Integrated Services Director: Sarah Belleau 2407 Laporte Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521