Verona teacher embodies what it means to #BeYou for her students

When Maria Carvalaho started in education, she didn’t envision her Friday afternoons would be spent in a middle school gymnasium, teaching athletes the basics of chest passes and jump shots.

But that’s what it’s become for the Savanna Oaks special education teacher. She coaches the students willing to listen that day. She offers hugs to the ones who need them. She encourages her kids to power through a difficult day.

“It’s great to see that they can push themselves, but they don’t focus on what they can or cannot do,” Carvalaho said. “They embrace who they are, so that’s wonderful to see.”

Carvalaho is a Special Olympics coach, preaching positivity to her students of all abilities.Verona teacher embodies what it means to #BeYou for her students

“I don’t know if it’s harder, actually. They just embrace who they are, and they’re comfortable with who they are.”

She can also relate to students who struggle to be themselves, which, unsurprisingly, is a large number of them. According to the latest Dane County Youth Assessment survey, about one in five seventh- and eighth-graders are stressed about what their classmates think of them. About half feel the pressure of academics.

“The social media is really hard for them,” Carvalaho said. “Unfortunately, you see that a lot of kids are dealing with a lot of adult issues that they really shouldn’t have to be dealing with.”Verona teacher embodies what it means to #BeYou for her students

In 1988, Carvalaho moved from warm, sunny Brazil to not so warm and sunny Michigan. She was just 18 years old at the time, heading to college in Marquette. She quickly realized there were not many foreigners who made the same decision.

“I had to realize that I had to learn what the new things from the U.S. are and take what you like best and incorporate those in my life, and that can become the new you,” Carvalaho said.

Carvalaho also felt alone at times, not accepted by some of her new peers. Eventually, she realized she just had to be comfortable in her own skin.

“I just … it brushed off. And then I was able to find people who really cared,” Carvalaho said. “Somehow, they started appearing.”

She wanted to treat communications disorders, but a job opened up at Savanna Oaks; 17 years later, she’s still there.

“You see that you really made a difference, so that is very rewarding to see that.”

Among the words of encouragement in her classroom, Carvahalo has a list of adjectives. Each day, she asks her students to choose one and identify their greatness. She says putting more specific vocabulary with their qualities helps those middle schoolers realize their value.Verona teacher embodies what it means to #BeYou for her students

“I really feel that it’s peer pressure and lack of support,” Carvalaho said. “Kids feel sometimes that they are not being heard.”

That’s why Carvahalo promises to listen to students of all abilities, pointing out the positive qualities each of them have and what makes them so unique.

“What a gift it is that we can be ourselves,” Carvalaho said.

News 3 and our partners at SSM Health want to encourage families to find ways to #BeYou. Please share your videos, pictures, and stories about what makes you, you!

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