An Advocate for Inclusivity: Special Education Teacher Sarah Rhodes


All Smiles: Mrs. Rhodes with one of her students, Gabriel Warrior, at his crowning ceremony after winning Mr. Ninth Grade.

There is no doubt that North Atlanta is a school of much diversity. However, on differences that society uses to create division, North Atlanta has instead become more united and connected. Special education teacher Sarah Rhodes is doing just that as she strives to improve the bond between students, specifically those with intellectual disabilities to those without. Her dedication to inclusivity is one of the reasons such a community is possible. 

Rhodes grew up in a small South Carolina town where she discovered her passion for teaching special education. Her high school introduced her to the concept through an adaptive physical education program. The program offered a chance for neurotypical students to engage with students with disabilities and help them prepare to compete in the Special Olympics and other sports. Rhodes also served as a peer mentor in a class during her junior and senior years. “I participated in the adaptive program throughout high school,” she said. “This inspired me to want to pursue a career in teaching.” 

At the College of Charleston, Rhodes majored in special education with a focus on intellectual disabilities and emotional behavioral disabilities. Her post-graduation teaching career began in Tennessee; however, her husband was in the army, so she taught in five states at six schools. “I prefer to teach high school because that is where my passion for special education started,” she said. “I like teaching neurotypical students how to work with my students and create an inclusive environment.”

Despite her knowledge, Rhodes found it difficult to acclimate to a virtual North Atlanta amid the pandemic. However, once learning returned to in-person, she was overwhelmed by the support she received from the Dubs. Building on this success, Rhodes hopes that all students see the value of including students with disabilities and treating them as equals. “Having compassion for differences in other people is important, and encouraging my students can make a huge difference,” she said. “Think of my students as any other student and treat them as you want to be treated.”

To further promote community at school, Rhodes helped bring back the peer mentor program and currently sponsors the Best Buddies club. The club aims to create one-on-one friendships and lifelong connections between students with intellectual disabilities and students without. Rhodes hopes to help her students feel welcome and cared for by everyone. Senior Shalom Montgomery, president of the club, appreciates Rhodes’ kind nature and commitment to her students. “Mrs. Rhodes is one of the most caring and gentle people I’ve ever met. She genuinely cares about each of her students,” she said. “She’s a great person, and I admire her tenderness and patience.” 

While some may find the task of preparing young adults for the future daunting, Rhodes loves teaching the life and social skills that help students engage inside and outside the classroom. By improving her students’ exposure to activities that simulate a job environment, such as working in the school bookstore and collaborating with the school’s community, Rhodes hopes to help her students become more independent and set them up for life. Though she knows every kid’s journey will be different, she strives to help them in every way she can. Mrs. Rhodes is truly making a difference in students’ lives every day.