Softball pitcher Madison Strunk is, in ways, following the career path of her mom, even though her mom did not always want it that way.
Strunk’s mother, Paige Sharp, is now a realtor, but when Strunk was growing up, her mom was a teacher of special needs children.
Now, about eight years later, Strunk wants to teach special needs children as well.
“I would always spend time [in her classes]. She would teach summer school and I’d always go with her every day,” Strunk said. “She was a life skills teacher, so every day I’d go with her and get experience there.”
While Sharp is always supportive of her daughter’s decisions, the one to go into the education field was not one she felt strongly about.
Coming from a family of educators, Sharp wanted her daughter to take a different path.
“It wasn’t the special needs kids that I wanted her to get away from, no, because if it was just about the kids, I’d still be a teacher,” Strunk said. “It’s the demand of a teacher. When I got out of [teaching], I saw that there was less support from your administration and that was scary to me. I don’t know that by the time that [Madison] would start teaching, that she would have that support, the backup from her administration. I don’t know if that would be possible at that time because I saw it dwindling and you don’t ever want your job to be in jeopardy, or your teaching license. But I’ve given up on that, and I’ve told her, ‘Do what you want to do Madison, you need to do what makes you happy.’”
Strunk’s mother believes that Madison spending time with her in the classroom sparked her interest in her care for disabled children and future career path.
“I attribute that, because she was able to see a lot and she interacted a lot,” Sharp said. “She saw the good and the bad and I think that’s where she started her whole love of these special needs kids.”
It wasn’t until this past summer that Strunk truly made up her mind and confirmed that the education field is the direction she wants to go.
She had experience in the past taking care of special needs children, but a summer spent taking care of a 9-year-old special needs boy, Jonathan, helped make her choice clear.
“This summer I babysat a little boy with down syndrome, he was 9,” Strunk said. “But, since I was in seventh grade, I was a peer tutor in the life skills class that we had at my school and so I worked with special needs kids. It’s kind of something I just knew was right.”
Spending time with special needs children by her mother’s side at a young age, Strunk finds a passion in each instance she has with a special needs child. She takes pride in being privileged to spend time with them and teach them in a way that has been gifted to her by her mother and her experiences.
“I think it’s a really big deal to treat them like you would any other 9-year-old, because he can tell and a lot of people don’t get that,” Strunk said. “My approach on that is of course you have to treat them a little different just to accommodate them, but I think that you should be able to just be direct with him and [Jonathan] started to respond a lot better when I was direct with him.”
As for Strunk’s mother, she saw that drive and passion from her daughter at a young age in her classrooms.
“I’ve always encouraged her to work with the special needs kids because she does have a gift for it, and it takes a special person to work with those kids and understand them, and I fully believe that she’s meant to do that,” Strunk’s mom said.
Strunk’s Texas routes helped play into her career path as well. From her hometown of Adkins, Texas, Strunk was able to get involved in the community and with special needs students in an impactful way.
“We have this place called Morgan’s Wonderland, in San Antonio. It’s the first amusement park for disabled children, so I go there a lot and volunteer,” Strunk said. “I try to be involved as much as I can.”
A junior, Strunk is majoring in social and behavioral sciences and is minoring in social work. Whether at Seton Hall or elsewhere, Strunk plans to get more involved in the education track since she knows what she wants to do in her future.
One way that Strunk wants to connect her two passions of teaching special needs students and softball is to try and organize a special needs softball or basketball game, where students can come to campus and enjoy themselves. While this is an idea she has had and reached out to people about, it may be more difficult to bring to life due to liabilities that come with having special needs students on campus.
Strunk is still determined to combine her two passions and make it work.
“I talked about trying to plan something, like a softball game, a day where we can play with the special needs kids in the area, but [people] have said it’s such a liability and really tough,” Strunk said. “That’s definitely one of my goals this fall, to try to find an after-care with these kids. It’s just hard to bring them on campus because it’s such a liability.”
Coming from a line of educators, Strunk is in some ways continuing a tradition. She is becoming a special needs teacher like her mom was and continuing a line of family teachers.
She’s not following that path because of family tradition, though, and was even warned against it. Rather, she’s following that route to express her passion of making an impact on the lives of special needs kids as much as they make an impact on her.
“It’s something that brings me complete joy and helping kids that actually want to be helped and they see you for you. It’s just awesome,” Strunk said.
“It’s just crazy how these kids can make a huge, huge difference in your life and that’s what I want.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.