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A resource room is dedicated to the teacher who started the program

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Nancy Harrison, a former teacher at St. James School in Falls Church, recognized the need for special education in her school. She fought to start a resource room, where struggling students can receive academic support, so they would not have to transfer to schools with those programs.

To honor her efforts, a resource classroom was dedicated in her name Feb. 1. Surrounded by dozens of friends, current and former students, and her family, Harrison was recognized for her impact.

“If a child ended up having a disability (teachers) would strongly recommend (parents) put their child in public schools,” Nancy Harrison said. “It was heartrending.”

Father Patrick L. Posey, pastor of St. James Church, blessed the plaque, which was unveiled by family members.

“May all who enter this classroom find, in the instructions of the teachers and aides, the spirit of Nancy Harrison, who motivated each child to pursue the joy of learning, even when their studies seemed difficult or they wanted to give up,” said Father Posey in his dedication.

Lindsay Harvey, a former student, said Harrison helped her get where she is today.

“Your kind and patient personality were reasons why I didn’t give up,” Harvey said. “You gave me the confidence I needed to succeed. Without your help, who knows if I would have gone to a four-year college and graduated?”

Harrison’s influence went beyond teaching. Susan Walthall, a parishioner of St. James Church, said Harrison helped her son in school, but more importantly provided support to her nephew who lost his mother. “She was very caring and very nurturing to him during a really bad time in his life,” said Walthall.

“Adding the resource room meant that Catholic education was available to students who otherwise would have had to attend other schools to receive the specialized education required,” said Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Mary Sue Carwile, principal of St. James and sibling of Harrison, in an interview before the event.

She said the decision to name the room for Harrison because some students minded going to resource, but would not mind going if there was a name attached. “The faculty decided that naming it the Harrison Center was the best choice.”

“There is no child she ever gave up on,” said Peggy Walker, a resource teacher at St. James. “I really admire what Nancy has done because, not only did she help every student that came her way, she built up a wonderful program.”

The plaque reads in part, “Throughout her years in the classroom, it became apparent to her that some of the students learned very differently from others. Her greatest desire was to unlock the keys to learning for every student she met.”

Certified special education teachers provide reading instruction for kindergarten through fifth grade and a monitoring program for sixth through eighth grades, according to the school website.

“At a time when this type of service was rare, Nancy was among the vanguard (who) saw a need and sought to fulfill it,” Christine Kurtzke Hughes, director of advancement at St. James, said in an email. “Hundreds of students passed through her classroom better equipped to use the talents given them and travel a path to academic and personal success.”

Harrison began teaching second grade in 1975. When children had issues or difficulties they would be referred to public schools because St. James didn’t have a special education program.

“If a child ended up having a disability (teachers) would strongly recommend (parents) put their child in public schools,” Harrison said. “It was heartrending.”

Harrison earned a master’s in special education at Marymount University in Arlington while teaching at St. James.

“I had the degree and then it was convincing the leadership that we needed a special education program,” she said. “It was a matter of making them realize how great it would be to keep children here and in the process the whole family is here.”

The resource room opened in 1995. Harrison continued teaching second grade part time and ran the center on a half-day basis. The room was open full time the following year. It was located in a former nurse’s station, but Harrison quickly realized the program would outgrow her and the space.

An additional teacher and aides were added, and a new classroom was turned into the resource room.

Harrison said it was fundamentally a reading development program, but the teachers did address math and other subjects that incorporate reading.  

MaryBeth Carroll’s son, Jay, graduated in 2007. He wasn’t able to attend the dedication, but sent along these words: “Hello, Mrs. Harrison, I give you my hugs and love. You were the conduit and bridge to my success.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017