BBA graduate from Danby awarded Casey scholarship

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BENNINGTON — Incoming college freshman Cassie Pearce has wanted to be a special education teacher since she was a high school sophomore.

So in her senior year, she set her sight on the Sandy Casey scholarship after reading about it online.

The scholarship was established in fall 2017 to honor the life of Sandy Casey, a native of East Dorset and a special education teacher who was killed in the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. It awards $2,500 to a Bennington County high school graduate intent on pursuing a career in education or service to children.

"It was the one (scholarship) that I really, really thought demonstrated who I am best," said Pearce, 18, adding she and Casey had common passions such as basketball, leadership and special education. "I feel like I'd be the perfect

candidate for this."

It turned out the scholarship selection committee thought so too. On Tuesday evening, at the annual Bennington Banner-Manchester Journal Regional All-Stars Gala, Pearce was named the scholarship winner.

The recent graduate of Burr and Burton Academy — where Casey was also an alumna — is headed to Fairfield University in Connecticut this fall where she will major in special education. She earned a 3.8 grade-point average in high school, and the university has given her a $68,000 academic scholarship toward her four-year bachelor's degree.

Pearce, a Danby resident, said her ideal job would be to teach special-needs children in elementary school.

"If you make a difference early on, it's a lot more beneficial for them," she explained.

Pearce is speaking from experience. In kindergarten, she started what has become a lifelong friendship with Caroline, a classmate who has Down's Syndrome. She saw how interacting with mainstream-school children every day, and participating in various school activities, helped Caroline grow up happy.

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To better communicate with Caroline, Pearce decided to do an independent class in sign language during her last two years of high school.

Pearce also spent a couple of years volunteering and a year interning at Burr and Burton's ACCESS Program, which provides special-needs students with academic training, extra-curricular activities and practical skills.

"They are very good at getting them involved in the community and destigmatizing the identification of their disability," Pearce said. "Just getting them out and surrounded with the things around them is so beneficial, and to the community as well."

Pearce's mentors are also very complimentary of her contributions to the community on top of her academic achievements and being a varsity athlete in soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

Beth McCoy, a speech language pathologist with the ACCESS Program and Pearce's peer mentoring supervisor, said the teen's work shows she is committed to helping special-needs youth reach their full potential.

Pearce's biggest strength, McCoy said in her recommendation letter to the Sandy Casey scholarship committee, is her willingness to go the extra mile to ensure that special-needs children are heard, supported and given the respect they deserve.

"In a world that is fast paced and full of distractions, I find it remarkable that a young woman like Cassie puts the needs of others before her own," McCoy wrote.

Cristin Rose, a school counselor at Burr and Burton, admired her for taking on the job of working as a caregiver to a 10-year-old boy who has autism and a rare form of epilepsy. The boy's challenges apparently include incontinence, feeding through a gastronomy tube and being nonverbal.

"Working with this type of child can be very difficult, scary and overwhelming. However, Cassie has not been fazed at all," Rose quoted the boy's mother as saying. "We are in need of great therapists and Cassie I know will be one of them."

Pearce's parents, Richie and Sonce Pearce, are elated over her winning the Sandy Casey scholarship and are supportive of her dreams to go into special education. But with her being the only girl in a family with three boys, they asked that she go to college somewhere on the East Coast so she won't be too far away.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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