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FEELING UNAPPRECIATED? Autism Academy Offers Remedy to Workplace Misery

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

AUTISM ACADEMY – At the Autism Academy, we pride ourselves on celebrating holidays such as Cinco de Mayo. By celebrating Cinco de Mayo, our students with autism can have a better overall education on cultures that may differ from their own.

This year Principal Shawn Davis reminisced about difficult days while incorporating fun Cinco de Mayo festivities into teacher appreciation week.

She’s determined to protect her team from experiencing the kind of pain she’s encountered as a previously unappreciated educator.

A line of teachers and paraprofessionals paraded throughout the Spanish-style decorated hallway and festive teacher’s lounge.

Amongst the streamers, banners, and colorful décor was a home cooked feast prepared to celebrate a team of hardworking educators at the Autism Academy in Peoria.

The buffet style celebration included green chili, jalapenos, spicy guacamole, rice, refried beans, chicken pollo fries, ribs, walking tacos, jalapeno poppers, and more.

The appetizing aroma saturated the building alluring the staff one-by-one, during breaks.

Davis says, classroom success relies heavily on five teachers and 25 paraprofessionals.

Some walked into the teacher’s lounge belting out, “We are loved,” while others sat eating and replying, “Yes, we are.”

Davis used rhetorical caricatures to define her five lead teachers and to add a little laughter to teacher appreciation week.


“Jamie Sowder is the provider,” Davis said. “She’s like the school mom, if you mention you need it, she will get it.”


“AnneMarie Anderson is the young fresh and friendly Disney princess,” she said. “She has a way of making people feel good and calm no matter what’s happening.”


“Raquel Yee is the sweet, kind, and tender cheerleader,” said Davis. “She is always encouraging and concerned about how other people feel.”


“Breanne Jojola is our go-to-girl, because she’s the dependable one,” according to Davis. “She’s a no-nonsense, straight-forward, loving, special person who works very well with life skills.”


“Alex Ladensack is our tall, burly, and cuddly golden child,” she said. “He stepped up from being a paraprofessional to a moderate teacher who is great at defusing outbursts and explosive behavior.”

Davis says all the paraprofessionals mirror these five teachers.

“Our entire staff is strong, kind, caring, and compassionate,” she proudly said.

Davis’ eagerness to acknowledge and celebrate her teachers and staff spiral from a painful place.

According to previously written articles in the Star Press newspaper, Davis worked as an elementary school principal in Muncie, Indiana.

The school occupied a high poverty, low-income region of the city.

Within five years, she implemented programs, curriculums, and strategies that transitioned a failing facility into a school that earned an accountability grade of A from the Indiana Department of Education.

However, the school district failed to support her efforts with resources or moral support.

In fact, Davis says she felt like she was being sabotaged, derailed, undermined, and never appreciated.

“It was five years of hell,” she said. “I also suffered from high blood pressure and false accusations.”

This is why Davis goes the extra mile to ensure her employees are appreciated, and the Autism Academy administration supports her efforts.

During teacher appreciation week, the Parent Partnership Program provided teachers with lunches to foster an added sense of gratitude to Autism Academy teachers in Peoria. Show your appreciation for educators at the Autism Academy!