UWMC grad finds special education niche

January 9, 2015

Alisa Pergolski always knew she wanted to be a teacher. However, it wasn’t until she spent a half-day in a special education class at Lincoln Elementary School in Wausau, as part of a practicum experience while attending UW-Marathon County, that she discovered her love for children with special needs.

Alisa Pergolski and students.“Being in a special ed classroom (that day) helped me realize I wanted to help kids, but especially kids with disabilities,” recalls Pergolski. “They have a special place in my heart.”

Ironically, Pegolski began teaching full-time this fall at Lincoln Elementary after completing her bachelor’s degree in special education last December at UW-Stevens Point. With a case load of 12 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, she now works with them one-on-one or in small groups to improve their reading, writing, math, life and social skills.

‘Big things in a kids’ life’

“I love seeing kids grow and celebrating important moments with them, such as learning how to count to 10 for the first time,” says Pergolski. “The other day, one of my students, who struggles with the alphabet, got 18 of 26 letters right. You should have seen the smile on his face. We forget as adults how little accomplishments like that are big things in a kids’ life.”

The first-generation collegian attributes much of her success to what she learned in and outside of the classroom while attending UWMC from 2008 to 2010.

“I really enjoyed my time at UWMC. It prepared me well for moving onto UWSP,” says Pergolski.

Attending UWMC also allowed Pergolski to live at home and continue working two part-time jobs she began while in high school as a dance instructor at Dawn Troyer Dance Studio and as a Best Buy customer service representative.

“Coming right out of high school, I loved the small class sizes at UWMC. It’s a place where I felt comfortable and helped me get to know what college life is all about,” says Pergolski, who helped organize a university dance team during her freshman year that performed at men’s and women’s basketball games.

Personal attention pays off

Pergolski welcomed the personal attention she received from UWMC professors, who she credits for keeping her focused on improving her time management and study habits. “College wasn’t easy for me so I really appreciated having teachers I could communicate with at any time of the day,” she says. “They were always accessible, often before or after class. It’s not always that way at a big college.”

Alisa Pergolski and students.Math lecturer Allison Nass was one of the instructors who had a big influence on Pergolski, helping ease the latter’s transition to college. “She (Nass) was so bubbly,” notes Pergolski. “She had a way of teaching that made it fun. She included experiences and activities that made me want to come to class every day.”

As a new teacher, Pergolski tries to create the same learning environment she experienced in Nass’ classroom for her students at Lincoln Elementary.

“I love special education,” says Pergolski, who has aspirations of becoming an elementary school principal. “I have a lot of energy, and my kids are so excited to learn. We feed off of each other so we might as well have fun and learn at the same time.”