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Teaching out of the box Leverence recalls changes as she retires from Northwestern Lehigh


Special to The Press

After 25 years of teaching at Northwestern Lehigh School District, learning support teacher Theresa Leverence has retired.

She leaves her position with vivid memories and the realization much has changed since her first year of service.

“When I first started it was special education but over the years, the change was made to ‘learning support teacher’,” she said, acknowledging she also changed to a more academic focus.

Almost three decades ago, the emphasis was on what was considered life skills, but with time, a more academic approach prevailed.

”For the learning support kids we had to delineate between what true life skills were,” she explained.

There were other changes as well. Years ago, the special education teachers taught all the subjects.

“It was frustrating teaching so many subjects back then,” Leverence said. “Now, we all have our little niches.

“I was teaching every subject every year, all year long but the educational philosophy changed, and we were to be mainstreaming kids.

The content area was spread out a little more and it turned out better for the students and teachers.”

“We were better prepared to deliver instruction to kids who were in the classroom alone and in classrooms with others,” Leverence said. “It was a real balancing act.”

Instructional assistants were critical to the process, according to Leverence.

“They are the ones out in the mainstream while we’re teaching the core content to a lot of our kids,” she said. “The support team is invaluable to us.

“They can give us observations of the students and we depend on them for feedback.”

The Individualized Education Program drives what the teachers have to deliver.

“Every other week, the learning support teachers had to make changes on top of adjusting our learning techniques,” Leverence said.

In addition to providing instruction, Leverence wanted to show her students the world and taking them on school trips was one way to do that.

“We took them on the ferry,” she recalled. “I took them to see the last year of ‘Cats.’

“They were so in awe of New York City, and the costumes! They loved the costumes.”

Leverence also took her students to the nation’s capital.

She remembers one excursion.

“After spending all day in D.C., we came back to a van with a dead battery which led us to running around the parking lot,” she said, laughing at the memory.

At the high school, Leverence taught out of the box.

Her room was well stocked with everything from the traditional to the unusual.

She even kept a sewing machine in her room.

“I don’t know how many pants and seams I mended or how many things I sewed on that sewing machine,” she said. “I even taught kids how to sew.

“Kids weren’t raised to have skills and it was an art that was dying.”

Some years, Leverence included lessons on hygiene, fashion and make up.

One year she asked her own hairdresser to visit.

“She came in and gave a few of the girls a haircut,” she said. “It made them feel special.”

This past year has been difficult for her students.

“My heart just broke for the kids,” she said. “I had such an appreciation of what they were going through.

“You could read it in their faces especially those who were home alone. Even the kids who don’t like school wanted to be in an actual classroom.”

“I was teaching kids with learning disabilities with their masks on.

“You couldn’t touch them. It was really tough.

Leverence said she keeps in contact with a lot of the kids.

“I think this year I had the most requests to be friends,” she said. “We had a pretty successful year despite the pandemic.”

Leverence started her teaching career at Council Rock.

“I’m from Bucks County,” she said. “In my first position I was split between two elementary buildings. I was there for three years.”

Then she moved into the Northwestern Lehigh School District.

“I subbed for a number of years but my first long-term position was in the middle school,” she explained. “I was president of the home and school association when I got the long-term sub position.

“Jim Warfel gave me my first opportunity. I have a lot of good memories. The administrators are fine people. I’ve had good leadership.”

Leverence praised the administration at Northwestern.

“It’s been my privilege to teach at Northwestern for all these years,” Leverence said.

“The administration and staff have been great.”

“It’s been a privilege to have worked in this district and to have raised my family here.

“We have great people who work here and are really devoted to the kids.

“It’s like teaching in utopia compared to other districts. I’m proud to have worked here.”

PRESS PHOTO BY ANNA GILGOFF Retiring Northwestern Lehigh teacher Theresa Leverence was inspired to paint a tribute to one of the subjects she taught over the years on her classroom wall.