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2004 Atkinson Scholarship

Tracy Beck, a teacher candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, is the second recipient of the Joseph W. Atkinson Scholarship for Excellence in Teacher Education.

"Tracy emerged from a very impressive group of scholarship applicants - demonstrating the balance of high academic credentials and community service commitment that characterizes an Atkinson Scholarship recipient," says Brian McGowan, the College's Deputy Registrar and Executive Director of the Ontario College of Teachers Foundation, which administers the scholarship.

The 32-year-old Beck, who lives in Waterdown, has a longstanding commitment to and involvement with people with disabilities.

"In high school I did a co-op placement in a special-needs class," she says. "I had decided before that I wanted to work with people with disabilities but that experience was so positive for me. It made me decide teaching students with disabilities was really what I was interested in."

There weren't any specific university programs that focused on disabilities at the time. So after high school Beck earned her Developmental Services Worker Diploma from Humber College.

She worked for 10 years as an educational assistant with the Halton District School Board. She worked at Blakelock High School in a developmental education unit and at White Oaks Secondary School in the life-skills department and in mainstream classes.

"People told me constantly that I should be a teacher," she says.

Then, in 2001, Beck heard about the new Bachelor of Arts program in disability studies at Ryerson University. She was part of its second graduating class - earning honours and numerous academic awards, including the 2004 Dennis Mock Student Leadership Award. She also received the Ontario Association on Developmental Disabilities 2004 Kay Samson Scholarship - the only such award in Ontario for undergraduates.

The award recognizes a lifetime of commitment for Beck, and the degree allows her to further pursue that commitment through teaching.

"Teachers have always been really positive for me," she says. "My family moved constantly when I was growing up. I went to eight different elementary schools. At every school I went to, there would always be teachers who were really nice to me and supportive of me.

"I also understood that when you're the new kid in school and you don't know anybody yet, the kids with disabilities would always be the first to accept me."

Those were two things she could depend on when she went to a new school, she says. "So it's always been in my mind that these two things needed to come together for me."

Beck wants to be a teacher who is really connected to students.

"Teenagers need to feel that their teachers understand and care about them no matter who they are," she says. "I want to be a teacher who is inclusive of everyone. I want to create a learning environment where everyone can succeed."

For the past five years Beck has been the advisor for the Dundas Junior Civitan Club, a volunteering and leadership group for teens. For three years she's volunteered for the Youth Leadership and Diversity Conference funded by Civitan.

"In the life of preparing me to be a teacher, I'm involved with highly motivated students on a regular basis," she says, "students who are really interested in helping their communities and becoming leaders.

"They tell me about the impact I've made on their lives. We do volunteer projects in the community. Both this experience and the leadership seminar experience give me more awareness than the average adult about the issues teens are facing. In a classroom, that's clearly going to help me."

Beck will be speaking at the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference in Toronto this February. Her talk is titled, Towards Inclusive Children's Literature.