Carmen LaBarge has been a valuable member of the Heartspring teaching team since 2011. Throughout her career, she has gone the extra mile to give the children she works with as many opportunities as possible.
Carmen’s interest in working with children with special needs began very early in her life. She had a cousin, Dixie, who had a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Carmen didn’t know what that was or meant as a child, all she knew is that Dixie could color better than anyone else she knew and she had the best Barbie collection. When she got older and learned about Down syndrome, she wanted to teach others that being different isn’t “scary or awful” and to accept others for who they are.
Carmen has 18 years of experience in working with children with special needs. Prior to coming to Heartspring, she’s worked in the Goddard, Maize and Wichita School Districts. She used the structured teaching model in all of her classrooms. She also tried to give her students as many social opportunities as possible. She implemented the “Circle of Friends” program in all three schools. In this program, students with special needs were paired with their typically developing peers from the school and worked on different activities together. This allowed the children to gain important social skills and even build new friendships.
Carmen continued going the extra mile when she came to Heartspring. She set up the “Buttons and Bows” program, which allows a few Heartspring students to sell magnets, buttons and bows and keep the profits. It also helps them work on communication and social etiquette. She also helped set up Alishianna Rocks, a similar program, for another student. Knowing the importance of getting students to experience the community outside of Heartspring, Carmen wrote and was awarded a grant that allowed all Heartspring students to take a trip to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kan.
Carmen has an impact on the school as a whole. She was part of a team that wrote a new IEP program. This team researched special education law and other districts to come up with the comprehensive IEP program Heartspring has now. She is also a member of the Needs Assessment Committee. Because of her efforts at Heartspring, Carmen was invited to participate in TASN’s structured teaching training where she learned more about structured teaching and will be part of a training team at Heartspring.
Carmen earned her bachelor’s degree in functional academics from Columbus State University and her certificate in autism from Pittsburg State University.
Carmen has been married for 32 years and has two grown sons. She enjoys gardening, traveling, reading, watching old television shows, walking in her pool, collecting Christmas trees and spending time with her family. She also has a dog, Joey, who keeps her very busy.