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Jennifer Ratchel named Kern CUE's Outstanding Teacher 2013

posted Feb 12, 2013, 7:10 PM by Jolene Berg
Jennifer Ratchel is a Deaf Education teacher at Eissler Elementary School in the Bakersfield City School District.  She was nominated and supported by colleagues at her school.  Here is an excerpt from her nomination packet.  

Everyone is scared of something.  Jennifer Ratchel was scared of technology! Jennifer began teaching in a third grade classroom during the 1996-1997 school year.  She had a computer available, but chose to handwrite lesson plans, to keep an old-school paper grade book, and to even handwrite quizzes and assignments for her students. 

Ever so slowly, Jennifer began utilizing available technology to its fullest extent.  She attended any and all trainings made available through her district, and eventually received a CTAP Level II certification.  It was at this point that Jennifer and technology became acquaintances.  By now, Jennifer was teaching a Deaf and Hard of Hearing class and she began to see how limited the resources for these children were.  She started researching for and designing standards-based Notebook lessons to be used via her smart board.  She was a very vocal advocate who supported the purchase of smart boards for her entire elementary school, and was even willing to assist teachers as they began their own foray into her once anxiety ridden world of technology.

Jennifer was open to helping others because she was amazed at the level of individual success her students were achieving via the interactive, stimulating, and interesting lessons she could now provide.  She was determined to enhance her students’ experiences using current and exciting technology any way she could get her hands on it.

At first, Jennifer asked her immediate supervisors for support, but they were unable to help.  She then went to members of special education at the district level, but they were also unable to assist. Instead of giving up, Jennifer set some amazingly high goals for herself because she was determined to do what was best for her students.

Since the majority of Jennifer’s students rely on hearing aides to be successful, but don’t all have the state-of-the-art equipment now available, Jennifer elected to spearhead the creation of a proposal to provide this superior technology to all Deaf and Hard of Hearing students within her district.  The proposal took weeks to research, organize, write and submit, but in the end, it was all worth it.  Over $50,000 worth of hearing aides, transmitters, boots, wall pilots, etc. was delivered! The work on this project had only begun. Jennifer was voluntarily trained in the correct fitting of the equipment, created an inventory, set-up the equipment, and provided trainings for the staff and students – all on her own time.  This technology gave new life to these children.

Jennifer could have stopped there, but she didn’t.  Her new crusade was to get technology into the hands of her students at their homes.  She wrote, and received, a grant via in which she obtained hand-held video cameras for the students to document the use of sign language in their homes and community.  The cameras are brought back to school where the videos are downloaded and shared with the class.

That same year, Jennifer received four first-generation iPads with a new student, but this quantity was not enough for her entire class, so she set her very indomitable mind on getting a class set of iPads stocked with apps that would meet the individual needs of her students.  She was successful through a grant from Kern CUE, a grant from her district’s Educational Foundation, and a donation from her school’s Booster Club.  These iPads are utilized in Jennifer’s classroom each and every day. The students are now capable of independently making videos of themselves, looking up unknown words in a sign language dictionary, writing and illustrating stories, and are constantly learning to use new apps.

At this year’s Kern CUE conference, Jennifer delivered an energizing and enlightening presentation that resonated with all in attendance entitled “iPads in Special Education and Mainstream”.  She is currently preparing to present again at the California Educators of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Annual Conference in March. 

Gone are the days of handwritten lessons and quizzes. The once technology phobic Jennifer Ratchel has now embraced technology in a way that can be imitated and admired.