March 19, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Weather watchers are easy to find at Central Elementary School.

Look no further than Charlene Counsells special education class. The students keep an accurate record of La Grandes rain, snow and temperatures.

The success of this weather project is one of many reasons why a trip for Counsell to St. Louis is in the forecast.

The educator is the winner of the prestigious 2000 Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award. The national award is given each year to a science teacher of students with disabilities.

Counsell will receive the award in St. Louis Saturday at the National Science Teachers Association convention.

Working for the Union-Baker Education Service District, Counsell is completing her eighth year as the county resource room teacher at Central. This year, she has nine students from throughout the valley.

She credits her staff of ESD education assistants with contributing greatly to the progress made by the students.

None of this would happen without my staff, Counsell said.

Science projects are an important part of the curriculum. In addition to weather recording, Counsell has students do things like conduct magnet demonstrations.

I try to find ways for the children to experience the world around them, she said. It is fun to see their smiles when this happens.

Bill Durand, an adaptive physical education specialist for the Union-Baker ESD, regularly sees Counsell at work.

Her ability to work with students is just incredible. She is the best resource room teacher Ive seen. She has an incredible amount of patience, Durand said.

Dorothy McIntosh, an educational assistant who works with Counsell, has similar comments.

She is awesome. She is a very patient woman who cares deeply for the kids, McIntosh said.

The award Counsell will receive is sponsored by the Regional Alliance for Science, Engineering and Mathematics for Students with Disabilities, New Mexico State University and the Science Education for Students with Disabilities program.

Don Ulrey, the La Grande School Districts curriculum director, first suggested that Counsell apply for the award.

Ulrey has long been impressed with how effectively Counsell can integrate her students with mainstream children. For example she has had her students participate in Centrals outdoor school and music programs.

This has a positive effect on the entire student body because it allows children to get to know special education students.

All students (at Central) are more accepting of other children because of her efforts, Ulrey said.

He said the compassion Counsell feels for her students is easy to see.

She has a real, genuine love of children. This love is demonstrated everyday in the classroom, Ulrey said.

Counsell, who grew up in La Grande and attended Central, is a graduate of Eastern Oregon University. She majored in elementary education and later earned her special education certification at Eastern.

Working with kids can be rewarding at any level, she said. It is great to see them progress, to see them get excited about their own learning.

Counsell has a special ability to evaluate a childs level of understanding and comprehension, said ESD education assistant Kathy Thimmes. Counsell can tailor her instruction to the childs needs.

She teaches each activity to every childs level, even in group situations, Thimmes said.

What advice would Counsell give to someone planning to work in special education?

You have to have a lot of patience. You must look for and be excited about small gains, Counsell said.

At Central, Counsell often has students for several years. Once she had a student from kindergarten through sixth grade.

You really form a bond with them. It is hard to see them move on to middle school, she said.