Helping students find their voice

Nonverbal students thrive in 39-year teaching veteran’s class

Kelly Wedum teaches a student how to use an app that helps nonverbal students communicate using symbols.

“I like this game!”

That phrase wasn’t spoken by a student in class, but instead came from an iPad that a student in Kelly Wedum’s Structured Classroom was using as the students played Go Fish together.

Helping nonverbal students learn to express themselves is a passion for Wedum — her 39 years of teaching can attest to that. But along with her longevity, there is a personal connection she has with the students — her daughter.

“My daughter, now 21, is nonverbal and autistic. She taught me that just because you don’t speak, doesn’t mean you don’t think or that you don’t have skills. She works harder every day to communicate and understand the world around her than any general education student I’ve ever worked with. She is also one of the most considerate and sweet people I know. I am passionate about being the voice for her and other kids like her. These kids need someone who recognize and bring out their strengths and who values them!”

Wedum’s love for teaching and her students is evident when you watch her work.

“I love our classroom, we have an amazing team and we work really hard to allow our kids to be their authentic selves while learning the skills necessary to function in society,” she said.

Wedum said she has three groups of students divided by their interests and ability. “One group learns sign language, I teach a group to communicate with an app that speaks for them with symbols, and we have a group of kids who have verbal skills, but don’t have functional language. They work on learning and using vocabulary in conversation.”

This is Wedum’s third year at Rocky Ridge Elementary. Before that, she taught in the Tacoma, North Beach and Taholah school districts. Thirty-nine years may seem like a long time to be teaching, but when you’re passionate about it, there’s only one way to describe it.

“This is my dream job!” she said.

Paraeducator Brettney Hase teaches sign language to a student at Rocky Ridge. In the Structured Classroom she works in, they use sign language throughout the day with nonverbal students.