Chris Rzemieniecki doesn't have much down time, but he wouldn't have it any other way. "Because I love working with children with special needs, I've dedicated nearly all of my time to my profession. What I do is so rewarding that it doesn't bog me down. I know this hard work will pay off."
Chris commuted to the Schaumburg Campus from his hometown of Bloomingdale, Ill. He graduated in December 2010 with his Master of Arts in Special Education. In addition to his studies, he kept a very busy off-campus schedule. "I work full-time as a teacher's aide in a self-contained, multi-needs classroom at Lake Park High School. Plus I have two part-time jobs working with the North East DuPage Special Recreation Association (NEDSRA): I'm an after school one-to-one aide for a student with autism, and I also serve as an assistant wheelchair basketball coach." In June 2010, NESDRA honored Chris with the Nova Star award. The Nova Star is given to the staff member who has worked for NESDRA for less than two years and has made a significant impact on participants and NESDRA's organization as a whole. Chris was deeply touched. "This was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life. My mother and father were secretly invited, and I've never seen my parents so proud!" Besides that commendation, he was asked to start leading NESDRA programs.
While he couldn't be more booked, Chris also couldn't be more passionate about his current career path. However, this wasn't always the case. After graduating college with a Bachelor's in Sociology, Chris thought he wanted to do social work, but when a friend set him up with an available job in corporate sales, he took it. "At first I liked it, and the money was good. After about eight months, I had a rude awakening: ‘I went to college to help people, and I'm not doing that.'" So Chris left the job, in search of something more.
He starting working as a substitute teacher, which reminded him how much he loved working with kids. Convinced he wanted to work in Education, he looked for a full-time position in a school. "I applied for a job online assisting in a ‘multi-needs class.' I didn't really know what that meant. When I went in on my first day – honestly, it was a little scary. These kids needed a lot of help, but I found out I was actually really good at it. After about two months, I had this instinct that I was meant to do this. The kids are so strong. It really helps put things into perspective."
After researching Roosevelt, Chris found everything he wanted in a graduate program: small class size, experienced faculty and a great location. "Attending grad school while working more than 60 hours per week leaves little time to commute. Plus, Roosevelt's education graduates have a very high job placement rate." Also, because so many Roosevelt professors have educational experience in the greater Chicago area, Chris says they teach "real-life" issues and situations.
His favorite course at Roosevelt wasCharacteristics and Methods of Teaching Students with Disabilities with Professor Barbara Layer, a week-long, intensive methods summer course teaching students with physical disabilities. During the course, graduate students were required to fulfill 20 hours of observation of someone with a physical disability. "I decided to volunteer at NEDSRA, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made."
After the class concluded, Chris continued working with NEDSRA, developing his skills as an aide and coach for special needs students. "Coaching is a unique and challenging experience when working with people with disabilities, because the range of their disabilities is so vast." Having been an athlete his entire life, Chris enjoys watching how sports play out among kids with disabilities. "With these kids, the learning curve is so different from that of able-bodied sports. It's more of a team game. They rely on each other for support. It's all based on good sportsmanship and team work."
After completing his master's degree, Chris looks forward to teaching special education in Chicago's northwest suburbs. Eventually, he plans to continue his education to pursue a career as an administrator or in assistive technology. Despite his grueling schedule, he's thankful to have finally found his calling. "The hard work, dedication and sacrifices I've made to fulfill my work and school obligations give me a feeling of accomplishment that cannot be rivaled. I can honestly say it's changed my entire perspective on life."
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