When it comes to supporting scholars with special needs, it’s personal for Ian McLaughlin. As someone who grew up with dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he understands the social and academic challenges of school first-hand.

Ian spent his first two years of college at a school specifically tailored to students with disabilities. While the experience was generally positive for him, he and his peers struggled even at a school that was made for them. That made him determined to become an educator. “I wanted to make sure there was a place for students like me in the mainstream school system,” he said.

After four years teaching at FAIR Downtown, Ian joined the team at Hiawatha Collegiate High School (HCHS). He was drawn to the school because of the opportunity that he saw in creating a special education program from the ground up, which has been no small feat.

Ian has worked with Nicole Cooley, HCHS principal; and Candace Burckhardt, special education coordinator; to expand the special education program from one teacher and one paraprofessional to two teachers and three paraprofessionals who work in co-teaching teams that prioritize mainstream inclusion and teacher collaboration. “Not every school district or school leader is willing to dedicate so much time and energy to special education, and I feel lucky to be so supported,” Ian said.

Their hard work is paying off. One scholar saw his score on the Lexile test, which measures reading proficiency, double in just one quarter. Ian and the scholar took some time to celebrate the accomplishment and set the next goal. “I was so proud of him for how far he has come,” Ian said. “We’re going to keep working together to make sure he keeps up this momentum.”

Ian does small group instruction with scholars who are struggling in a class — regardless of whether they have a disability — to make sure no one feels singled out. He knows first-hand that ninth-grade scholars can feel self-conscious and respects that they may need time to feel comfortable talking about their disabilities. “When they get a little older, I’d like scholars to feel proud of who they are,” Ian said. One way that he encourages that pride is to be candid with his own disabilities.

In his free time, Ian enjoys DJing 90s hip-hop and 70s R&B, biking, and working in various mediums of art. He also enjoys working with his wife Raquel and sister-in-law Gabby at the school.