My name is Catherine (Canning) Schwall and I was the first Reymann Scholar. While in High School, I had no intention of becoming a teacher. But then my High School math teacher told the class about a summer program for children with special needs which could use some help. So I volunteered at Kvam’s Kinder camp that summer and grew to love those children.
That fall I attended the University of Akron and majored in Special Education. Just as I was graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, the State changed requirements for part of my dual degree. So I needed to take three additional classes and decided to take them at the Master’s level.
One of my professors told me about a scholarship for people pursuing a Master’s degree in Special Education and encouraged me to apply. Money was tight, so I was thrilled to be notified that I had been chosen as the recipient not only of the honor of being chosen as the Reymann Scholar but also that it included a $500 award. This afforded me the opportunity to start my Master’s program, which otherwise would have been delayed.
I was hired by the Medina County Board of MR/DD, a program which encompassed special needs children from the seven school districts and adults from all over the county. I stayed there for 36 years, until I retired.
My teaching position was in the Preschool department but over the years I was asked to sub in different classrooms on my meeting, home visit and paperwork day. So I ended up teaching every age group from infants to 21 year olds. The work was often exhausting both mentally and physically but definitely rewarding. I always said there was never a dull moment.
Once “my kids”, always “my kids”. So it’s no surprise that many of them came to my wedding. And I attended their school programs when they moved on to public school, cheered them on at Special Olympic meets, attended Sweet 16 celebrations, High School graduation parties, 40th birthday parties and way too many funerals.
When my own children became Preschool age, I, along with other staff, convinced our principal and superintendent to allow our young children to come with us to work. So we created Integrated Preschool classrooms long before the state of Ohio mandated them. I wanted my own sons to see that they were more like the children with disabilities than they were different. I wanted them to see past the physical or mental issues and see the child and become friends. I didn’t want them to fear someone simply because they looked a little different.
I was the teacher, but I learned so much from my students about patience, persistence and peace despite the circumstances. I’m proof that the Reymann Foundation’s work on behalf of children with different abilities is making a difference.