In her 11th year of teaching, Crestline Elementary School teacher Joanna Haefele has been recognized by the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools for her devotion in working with special needs students.

Haefele currently works with an early childhood special education class within Crestline Elementary in Barstow and was among five who were honored as Regional Teacher of the Year.

Her interest in teaching first began at Barstow Community College, then quickly transitioned to Haefele’s start as a paraeducator in 1998. She then began teaching at Barstow Junior High School in 2006.

“Once I started working in the classroom I knew this was a profession for me. I enjoyed being with the kids and felt like I connected with them,” Haefele said. “I plugged on in school earning my bachelor’s, my teaching credentials and then two master’s degrees.”

The teachers recognized represent special education, alternative education, juvenile court school and state preschool as “they truly transform lives through education,” according to County Superintendent Ted Alejandre.

“It’s hard to explain how incredible it is to help a child learn to communicate, learn to trust and learn to socialize. I have had a few of my students move on to general education settings after leaving my early childhood special education program,” Haefele said. “A few of these kiddos have been top of their classes and have even won awards for their academic abilities.”

At first, Haefele was unsure if becoming an educator was the path for her although she has now deemed teaching her dream job as she’s grown to love working with children who have special needs.

“I have always taught children who have special needs. I really have a heart for these kiddos. They give back to me as much as I give to them, if not more,” Haefele said. “Every day with them is something different, and even the smallest success is celebrated. I truly love working with this population of students.”

Haefele’s end goal is to “teach early childhood in a college setting” while forming a community based program that assist parents with navigating the field of special education in rural areas.

“Teaching kiddos with special needs really puts life in perspective. My kiddos exhibit a level strength, resilience and sheer will power every day. They inspire me to want to be a better person,” Haefele said.

Each of the teachers — Cynthia Cervantes, Brenda Deas, Suzanne Edwards, Joanna Haefele, Sheryl Schmidt and Louie Vega — was recognized during a ceremony hosted by the County Board of Education on June 5.