Dana Bowe: “Their value and worth are beyond measure.”

Delaware’s Teacher of the Year is endeavoring to make school a better place for special-needs students.

“We are all more alike than different,” said West Seaford Elementary School teacher Dana Bowe.

As Teacher of the Year, Bowe will work to bring about positive change in schools by addressing community groups, business leaders, legislators and educational organizations. The title comes with a $10,000 grant from the General Assembly and smaller grants from other organizations.

Bowe’s students, in kindergarten through second grade, are part of the Sussex County Orthopedic Program and come from all over the county. The program is for students through age 21 that require some combination of intense nursing and therapeutic or educational support due to significant disabilities.

“But all of these children have capabilities. Their value and worth are beyond measure. Each student has a different story, different journey and different abilities,” Bowe said.

She graduated in 1994 from the same district she now teaches in. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from East Carolina University, then went west, teaching in Washington at an early childhood center and at a Denver kindergarten. Before returning to Seaford about 10 years ago, she worked at a Maryland private school and in Colonial School District in New Castle County.

“I returned to my hometown because I believe in our community,” Bowe said. “I believe in our schools.”

Both her parents taught in the Seaford School District. Her father taught English as a second language. He took her with him to migrant camps in the summer. There, she met hardworking families with children eager to learn English, and they left a lasting impression.

“The belief in the power of education always stayed with me,” she said.

Bowe earned her master’s degree in special education with certification in severe disabilities and autism, making the orthopedic program a perfect fit.

“Students are able to attend classes and participate in extracurricular activities with their general education and community peers in an inclusive, equitable and supported environment,” she said.

Bowe strives to make that happen every day. She started a Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to discourage the derisive term “retarded,” instead encouraging the use of more respectful words and promoting acceptance, compassion and inclusion.

Recently, she helped to found a “Choose to Include Crew” at West Seaford.

“Club members will become leaders to promote compassion and understanding throughout our school,” she said.

In March, the entire district will participate in Rock Your Socks on World Down Syndrome Day. By wearing brightly-colored, funky socks, participants celebrate people with Down syndrome while helping to raise awareness and promote inclusion and respect.

In her acceptance speech, Bowe said that, sometimes, seeing the effect of initiatives like Rock Your Socks is difficult.

“Other times, although it is not blatantly obvious, there is a quiet victory: students holding hands walking down the hallway, a child in a wheelchair tutoring other children in class or a regular education student asking a child to be his partner even though they can communicate only through gestures, signs or the use of a ‘talker.’

“I would like to use the grant money to provide more opportunities to teach tolerance, awareness and acceptance for all students,” she said. “I am excited to shine a light so others can see the greatness that is inside each and every child.”