Sarah Peters ('12) | Teacher Education

sarah peters

Special education major 
from Austin, Texas

The summer after her sophomore year of high school, Sarah Peters volunteered at a camp for kids with special needs known as CAMP - or Children's Association for Maximum Potential. The experience changed her life. 

"It helped me to see people for who they are, not what they look like," she said.

At CAMP, Sarah served as a counselor, working with only one child for the entire week. It was her job to make sure that her camper could participate in every activity, no matter how challenging the process might be. She and her fellow counselors fed and dressed the campers, held them in swimming pools and on horseback, rode with them in canoes, and held archery equipment for them, among other things. The camp used special equipment to make sure that every child could participate, no matter how severe their condition. 

"We're basically their hands and feet," Sarah said.

One of Sarah's favorite parts of working at CAMP was the special relationship she formed with an individual camper each year. Though she rarely worked with the same camper twice in a row, the bonds she created with former campers endured. 

"It's really exciting when you come back every year and see campers you've had before," she said. "It's really beautiful." 

It helped me to see people for who they are, not what they look like.

She also connected with the other volunteers, recognizing that only they could understand the unique joys and difficulties of working with CAMP participants. They could appreciate the need for a few moments of alone time, or the challenge of lifting a camper from her wheelchair. 

"I'm pretty good friends with some of the counselors," she said. "That kind of bond is like a family." 

A new way of viewing the world

But most of all, she has learned from the relationships she's formed with campers. Working one-on-one with children with special needs has re-shaped how Sarah perceives the world and those with whom she interacts on a daily basis. 

"I've learned to be patient, to take time to listen to what they say," she explained.

Sarah's activities with children with special needs aren't limited to CAMP, though. She also connected with the special needs community in Montevideo, Uruguay, during her semester with ACU's Study Abroad program in the spring of 2009.

She joined a church that had a deaf community and made many friends with the individuals in that community. She met a boy who had Down's syndrome and spent time once a week with him and his mother. And, like every other Montevideo participant, she roamed up and down the streets of the city, soaking up Uruguayan culture and the unique sense of contentment that pervades daily life.

"That was one of my favorite things - being in the community," she said. "I miss it every day." 

Sarah also has worked for two semesters with a girl in Abilene who has special needs. She finds the work challenging but fulfilling, a way to express her purpose and mission in the world. 

"This is why I'm here," she said. "God has a calling for every person, and I feel like this is it."

Classroom learning plus experience 

As an education major Sarah applies what she's learned in real-world experiences to the classroom setting, resulting in a distinctive blend of practical skills and academic theory. For Sarah, though, every situation is merely a way to achieve her calling. 

"I knew I wanted to work with kids with special needs, and education seemed a good way to do that," she said. "And I feel like I have a little bit of experience to add to my classes."

She is also completing a minor in theatre, a discipline she believes will help her relate to children with special needs. She likes being silly, and that impulse toward the dramatic gives her an added ability to communicate with her students. 

"I think those classes will benefit me as an educator," she said. 

When Sarah thinks about the future, she envisions working at a boarding school or caring for children with special needs via the medical field. She wants to be a holistic caretaker, someone who spends the whole day with her patients and doesn't just flit in and out of their lives for a few hours a day. That passion and purpose stem from both her sense of God’s calling and her previous experiences with children with special needs. 

"They have a pure love, the love of Christ," she said. "They love without regard. I think I don't question God's power because of the love I've seen in these people. It's really strengthened my faith." 

And although some may regard these children as handicapped or disabled, Sarah finds that each one of them teaches her something extraordinary. 

"I think I have a deeper appreciation of what it's like to see through the eyes of Christ," she said.

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ACU Teacher Education majors get hands-on with students at a local elementary school.