From the moment a child steps foot into her classroom, Cathy Mills is thinking about how that 5-year-old will make the crucial transition to the world beyond Perkins School for the Blind.
As a pre-vocational teacher in the Lower School, she helps students go beyond traditional academics to discover what they’re interested in, what types of jobs are available and how they might achieve their full potential.
Her forward-thinking approach was recognized Oct. 11 when she received the 2017 Outstanding Teacher of Students who are Blind/Multiply Impaired award from Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB), a national association.
“Just to find out my supervisors were nominating me, I felt really honored and humbled,” said Mills. “When I found out I won, I got very emotional. I felt really good about winning it for Perkins.”
Mills has been an integral part of the Perkins community for more than two decades. She’s been a teaching assistant, a houseparent, an Outreach staffer, a recreation coordinator – and for the last 12 years, a teacher in the Lower School.
She received the award in Louisville, Ky., at the Council of Schools for the Blind Institute Banquet. She attended with her husband, Perkins training department coordinator Jason Mills, as well as Perkins Superintendent Ed Bosso and Secondary Program Education Director Pat McCall, who introduced her.
McCall credited Mills with building the pre-vocational program for younger students from the ground up.
“It was just a thought in my head when I shared it with staff a few years ago, and Cathy immediately got in touch and said, ‘I’d love to be able to run that,’” said McCall. “I felt completely comfortable saying, ‘She’ll figure this out and make it something bigger than I even thought it would be.’”
In addition to her pre-vocational work, Mills is a frequent collaborator across campus. She co-wrote the Total Life Learning curriculum on essential foundational skills, mentors first-year teachers in both the Lower School and Secondary Program and works regularly with international educators in the Educational Leadership Program, who learn new skills and techniques in her classroom.
“That’s why Perkins is such a great place to work,” said Mills. “I am nothing without my colleagues; the teaching assistants who work with me every day, the speech and language pathologists, the physical therapists, the orientation and mobility specialists. It just shows the tremendous team we have.”
For McCall, who’s watched Mills grow since she arrived on campus as a fresh-faced 21-year-old teaching assistant, what makes Mills such a valued Perkins staffer is simple.
“Ultimately, it’s just the relationships she develops with the students,” he said. “She’s worked with the most independent students who are going to college to students with significant intellectual and communication disabilities, and she makes a connection with all of them.”