BEd Exceptional Students and Elementary Education, 2018-2020 Cohort

Kelly Zalopany in graduation gown

“The reward of being an educator is something words can't express... Special Education is where my heart is, and I can't wait to make an impact on my local community.”


Hawai‘i Kai


Special Education

Related Degrees

  • BEd, Exceptional Students & Elementary Education

Where do you work?
I’m currently employed at Wai‘alae Elementary as a resource teacher. I just signed a contract this May and can’t wait to join the Wai‘alae team.

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher? Briefly describe your road to this career.
After becoming a Paraprofessional, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. The reward of being an educator is something words can’t express. I was born to be an educator. Special Education is where my heart is, and I can’t wait to make an impact on my local community.

How did you become interested in special education in particular?
Working with children has always been a passion of mine since before I can even remember. I was a preschool teacher when I noticed there was a special education preschool in the same building. I grew curious and asked the SPED teacher’s how I could join their team. They told me I could apply for an open paraprofessional position on the DISD website. Luckily, I got the job, and the rest is history. My love and passion for special education grew stronger by the day. While I never thought I’d attend college, my desire to become a Special Education teacher pushed me out of my comfort zone. I began attending classes in the summer of 2014 and finally finished my degree in 2020.

Why did you choose to pursue the Exceptional Students & Elementary Education (ESEE) program?
ESEE was a perfect fit for me because I knew I wanted to teach students with diverse learner needs, but I needed the foundational education to successfully service my students. This program gave me the confidence and foundational skills to become an effective and prepared educator.

What was the best part of the program for you?
The best part of the program is the lifelong memories and friendships that come along with being in a cohort full of wonderful people seeking the same goals as you. I felt like the professor’s were beyond incredible, and I lucked out with the best mentor teachers too.

In what ways do you hope to make a difference in the field of education?
I hope to inspire students to strive to do their best and be accountable for their goals. I want to help students gain confidence academically and socially and be proud of their work and progress.

How did the people and the program in the COE help you along your way to becoming a teacher?
My classmates were incredible, and we all helped each other throughout the last two years in every way possible. All 24 of my classmates were solid students, and I felt so blessed that we were grouped together. My professors were also so amazing. The quality of the education I received helped prepare me in the best ways. My professors were also always available to further help if we needed it and communicated effectively throughout the program. I believe the COE staff in general from the advisors to the office staff are rock stars.

What was the best part about your field placement experience?
The best part of my field placement experience was learning from some of the best educators out there. I learned by doing, which I found to be the most effective way of learning. My mentors instilled a large amount of trust in me and allowed me to grow. While experiencing first-hand what teaching is all about, my mentor teachers consistently gave me feedback. Both Kalihi Kai Elementary and the University Lab School offered such a unique experience for me. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have the confidence I have now.

What are your future plans?
I plan on teaching as long as possible. I hope in the near future I’ll complete my master’s in special education and continue to learn and grow to become a better teacher.

I'm interested in learning more about a degree or certificate in Special Education.

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