05/13/13 “Be all that you can be” is more than just a slogan to 20-year-old Hannah Samuelson-it’s a goal. Hannah, born with Down Syndrome, spends two hours every school day helping students in the classroom of Natalie (Caban) Branda. Branda serves as an intense intervention teacher at Menominee Elementary in Plymouth.
Although Hannah helps in a number of ways such as going over letter names and sounds with students, she prides herself on leading “circle time” where she introduces the cafeteria menu for the day, talks about the weather, and shows students how to use the calendar. Branda said, “Hannah is very loving with the kids. She is often able to calm them down when they get anxious by giving them a little hug or sitting with them.”
Branda is both a mentor and friend to Hannah. They first met when Hannah was entering the sixth grade and the new environment at Lincoln Junior High and Branda was a senior at Plymouth High School. PHS Guidance Director Aimee Portteus knew that Branda wanted to pursue a teaching degree in special education and suggested that she would be a great help to Hannah in getting adjusted. Even after Branda graduated in 2006 from PHS, she and Hannah remained friends.
During an open house for Hannah when she graduated in 2012 with a Certificate of Completion from PHS, Hannah’s mother Shannon Samuelson and Branda discussed ways to help Hannah continue to work on speech skills. The idea of having her in the classroom seemed like a good fit. Echoing the idea of having Hannah help with kids was Rita Large, speech therapist at Menominee. Large said, “I had no reservations about how well Hannah would be with the children. Even before Hannah graduated, we were seeking ways to keep her engaged.” Large has Hannah come to a therapy session with two fourth grade students one time each week now. Large said, “It’s like practicing while teaching for her. If the students don’t pronounce a word correctly, Hannah will model it for them.” Large said Hannah has gained more confidence and is talking a lot more than she did before helping out in the classroom.” “She is a different girl.” Large said.
Hannah said, “I love to help the kids.” “Mrs. Branda is my boss and I have to do what she says, but she is my friend too.” “I love everyone here in the class and want to help Miss Sherri (Sherri Maxwell), Miss Laura (Laura Garza), Miss Susan (Susan Styers) and Miss Beth (Beth Browning). Maxwell, Garza, Styers and Browning all work with children in special needs programs as well. Hannah greets the students by name as they come into the classroom. “I try to make sure they are happy, but I tell them they have to behave too.”
Shannon Samuelson said Hannah has persistence. “She just doesn’t give up.” she said.
Hannah’s father, Todd Samuelson, says Hannah is an extremely hard worker and is dedicated to her “job”. He said, “”We all want to make a difference and I feel she is a valuable contributor to the class.” He added, “As with any child, we need to focus on what she can do, not what she can’t do.”
Equally supportive of Hannah are her two younger sisters, Audrey and Maddy. Shannon said, “They are sisters and sometimes disagree, but they all love and support each other.” Audrey, who is graduating from PHS in June, plans to study genetics at Indiana University.
Hannah takes the Marshall County Transit bus to PHS each day from Menominee. She continues to study life skills, writing skills, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Her teacher there, Carin Plothow, said, “Hannah takes her academics very seriously. She is always the first to start working and the last to pack up her things when it’s time to go home.”
PHS Principal Jim Condon said, “Hannah always sets her goals high. Menominee is an amazing place for her.” Menominee Principal, Mike Dunn, said, “Hannah is a good role model for the kids in Mrs. Branda’s classroom. She works will with them.” He added, “You know from watching her that she really cares about them.”
Carol Anders Correspondent