Barbara Washington and instructional partners Alexis Patterson and Jeanine Mosher were presented with the 2022 Grissom Award for Innovation in Special Education at the Kentucky Board of Education’s (KBE) Aug. 3 regular meeting.
The award is given in the spring of each year to Kentuckians or a Kentucky organization to honor outstanding dedication to improving student achievement for students with disabilities. The award recognizes those who exhibit leadership, commitment and service to promote high student achievement through instructional equity and in closing the achievement gap for all children.
Washington has dedicated her life to special education, discovering her passion through her mother, who also taught students with moderate to severe disabilities. While in elementary school, Washington would walk to her mother’s school after belong released early and work alongside her mother in the classroom. This sparked her love for the community and set her on this path.
“I wanted to impact the lives of individuals with disabilities because that’s where I started with my mother,” Washington said. “Working with the students that she had taught, I saw them move into adulthood. And when I taught, I worked in preschool, elementary school and high school, so I saw those kids’ transition, and now as I guide my grandson into his education and into the school system, it is meaningful to me.
“It’s something I knew I wanted to do when I was 9 years old. And so, I see this award as a star in the crown for me. I believe that’s where my life should have gone, would have gone and where it did go.”
Washington earned three degrees from Vanderbilt University, including a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate with honors.
After working at Murray State University for 10 years with tenure and serving as chair of the Special Education Department, Washington now works with her grandson, who was diagnosed with autism. She takes great pride in getting to use her life’s work to support her family.
Washington’s nominator for the award praised her for teaching all her students to advocate for themselves because she believes failure is not an option and every child deserves to be educated.
“Dr. Washington’s passion for special education students, teaching special education curriculum, mentoring faculty and being a member of the professional organization Council of Exceptional Children demonstrated the true meaning of being a role model for others to follow,” said her nominator.
“What a wonderful capstone to an amazing career. She was an amazing person to work with,” said KBE member Holly Bloodworth, who also works at Murray State University. “She was an amazing advocate for special education. We will miss her so much at Murray State and I am proud to know her.”
Alexis Patterson and Jeanine Mosher
Patterson and Mosher – founders of the Person First Academy – received the Grissom Award as a team. The academy has set up numerous volunteer and career positions for students and helps equip them with the tools necessary to achieve long-term success after graduation.
“Innovation in this field is few and far between, and Jeanine and I noticed the need,” said Patterson. “We wanted to provide a realistic systematic approach to transition programming for students with moderate to severe disabilities with the end goal of them obtaining and maintaining competitive employment opportunities.”
Patterson also found her passion for special education through family. When she was a young girl, her family cared for a girl with Down syndrome. Patterson attributes this experience as starting her journey into the special education community. In her senior year of high school, she went into an adaptive physical education course at Fern Creek High School (Jefferson County), where she worked with students in special education.
“I fell in love with their determination and their ability to overcome the adversity they have when given the opportunity to do so. I knew deep down that spending my life advocating for this population was something that I was called to do,” she said.
Patterson earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky (UK) in special education for students with moderate to severe disabilities and is working on a master’s in special education at UK.
Mosher, who started as an art teacher, had a less direct introduction to her career. She and her husband worked in the military for 10 years and their constant relocation made it difficult to establish a job teaching in a district. They eventually landed in Richmond, where she spent a year as a substitute teacher.
During this time, Mosher often found herself in special education classrooms, where she and others recognized her natural talent in the field. She was emergency certified by Madison County Schools and pursued her moderate and severe disability certification through the five-year certification program at UK.
“I have been in the profession for 15 years and I still love it. I still find it challenging and rewarding, and they teach me every day,” she said.
When asked what winning the award meant to her, Mosher said that the two words that come to her mind are validation and hope.
“There are a lot of people who are working very hard to put this program [Person First Academy] together,” Mosher said. “Especially over the summer, when wondering what next year will look like, it can feel so heavy at times. I feel like this award has lightened the load. You feel hopeful to keep going, keep working like it is going to get there. And it is.
“We are already producing a much better-quality adult. They are already holding positions that they would have struggled two years ago to keep. We know that this program has the potential to change the world, and it’s very exciting to be a part of that.”
“I am so proud these two have been chosen,” the pair’s nominator said. “They are both committed to improving post-school outcomes that provide a bright future for their students. The Madison County School District and its leadership have continually taken steps to build their transition program for all students and have two great leaders in education building the Person First Academy! Ms. Alexis Patterson and Mrs. Jeanine Mosher are two deserving educators that will represent exactly what a Grissom Award winner should be.”
“Congratulations again Dr. Washington and Alexis and Jeanine,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said. “On behalf of the Kentucky Board of Education and all of the staff here at the Kentucky Department of Education, I want to personally thank you all for your exceptional leadership.”