Sunday Conversation with Cassidy Culberson

Special ed teacher rewarded for being ‘hero’

A mission trip to the Dominican Republic is why Cassidy Culberson is now a special education teacher. The 22-year-old had thought she’d be a nurse until an opportunity to volunteer at a camp for kids with disabilities changed her mind. “That is when I fell in love with the idea of teaching special ed,” said Culberson, who is doing her first year of teaching at Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell. The direct online homebuyer OfferPad recently named Culberson a “Holiday Hero” for her community service here and abroad. The distinction came with a $1,000 gift card. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it,” Culberson said. “I don’t feel right spending it on myself when I am already rewarded for doing what I love.”

Q: How do you like teaching?

A: I love it but it is definitely challenging. I am learning as we go. It has been really cool to grow with my students and see how I can be a better teacher as well as make them better students.

Q: What has surprised you?

A: How much work I end up taking home. I don't have a problem with that — I like to give 100 percent. My roommates are teachers, too, and we talk about school all of the time. Our other friends who aren't teachers say, "Can you find something else to talk about?"

Q: What has been the best surprise?

A: When I say I teach middle school, a lot of people ask, "Why? All those hormones." My students are definitely in that awkward phase and there is a lot of drama. But they are just looking for someone to love them and I get to do that on a daily basis. I started a "kindness matters" board. A student writes something nice about someone on a Post-it note and I put it up on the board. (I do reward students who write nice things with a piece of candy.) I have a board full of notes and even have had to put some in my drawer because I can't fit them all.

Q: What’s the International Helping Hands club you started at school?

A: I want the kids to see that you can help someone in your backyard or someone you don't even know. Right now, our goal is to raise money so we can make hygiene buckets for people in the Dominican Republic. It costs about $20 to buy a bucket and fill it with supplies like a toothpaste and a toothbrush. We are making bracelets to sell.

Q: Many of your students come from low-income families themselves. What will this club teach them?

A: I had a friend of mine who lives in the Dominican Republic write about the difference a hygiene bucket can make. My students were shocked that there are people who don't have running water or bathrooms or toothbrushes. They saw how fortunate they are compared to other people and wanted to know what they could do to help.

Q: Have you been abroad a lot?

A: I've done five mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Costa Rica.

Q: Don’t you want to start a school in the Dominican Republic for children with disabilities?

A: Many kids with disabilities in that country don't receive an education so it is my life's goal to start a school there. I would love for people to see that those kids deserve just as much as anyone. I know that starting a school will take hard work and a lot of money and sacrifice. Right now, I'm just trying to figure out what I'm doing here before I go somewhere else.

Q: How has serving others transformed your life?

A: Everything that I have ever done for anyone else has given me back far more. More knowledge. More love. More appreciation for other people.

To read more about Culberson and the other “Holiday Heroes:”