Jessica Ketner: Life skills support teacher, Pleasant Gap Elementary School
Jessica Ketner originally graduated from Penn State as a criminal justice major with aspirations to be a detective. While she’s now the K-5 life skills support teacher for Bellefonte Area School District, she said she still feels like she’s using her detective skills when working with students from across the district.
“I like to think I still am using my detective work because you have to figure these kids out and it is not easy,” Ketner said. “It’s hard because you have eight kids in front of you with all different needs, but I think the biggest thing is patience and listening, and just having good communication and trust with everyone involved, so we’re on the same page for the success of the student.”
Ketner was hired at the district in 2015 after eventually graduating from Lock Haven University with degrees in education that make her eligible to teach general and special education classes. She first spent a year at Bellefonte Elementary School as a long-term sub, and then applied for a fulltime position as a special education teacher at Benner Elementary School. About five years ago, she transferred to Pleasant Gap Elementary School, where all elementary life skills support services are housed for the district. Ketner also recently graduated from Arizona State with a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis.
Life skills is a program designed to meet the needs of students who have mild-to-moderate cognitive and physical disabilities, with objectives annually taught to meet the needs of each student’s abilities and Individual Education Plan, or IEP.
“I feel like myself and the staff that work in here all see the little progresses and that’s huge, when sometimes to everyone else it might be little,” she said. “Just having the mindset about being excited about the progress we’re seeing is very rewarding, and when we hear other teachers and staff tell us about the students' progress, then we know the skills are being generalized, which is ultimately the goal.”
On any given day, Ketner said she teaches reading, writing, math, science and social studies, communication skills; in addition to personal health, wellness and hygiene such as brushing teeth, washing hands and more; and other functional life, social, behavioral and academic skills.
“Whatever they come in needing, we find a way to teach the skill,” Ketner said, and added that she’s not alone in the mission, by also working with a group of paraeducators and parents who are an integral part of the team. “Without this team, my job would not be doable. I hope they realize how important they are to me and the students.”
When not in school, Ketner said she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children. They’re planning another cross-country trip in their RV, but on a different route than they traveled in the past. She also said her family is heavily involved in their church.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD