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Heather Schwarz is the first recipient of the Heather M. Empfield Scholarship in Autism, which is given to teachers, paraprofessionals or administrators of Stafford County Public Schools who work with students with autism. Schwarz is the only teacher of students with autism at Stafford High School, and she helps her ninth- and 10th-graders develop valuable life skills both in and out of the classroom. "Every day is different, fun and interesting," says Schwarz, who feels a sense of accomplishment after her first year of teaching. "By the end of the school year, I saw a lot of improvement in many areas that my students initially struggled with." Schwarz always knew she wanted to teach but wasn't sure what grade level or subject area she wanted to specialize in. It was through several extracurricular activities at JMU — Best Buddies, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the service fraternity APO — that she discovered a passion for helping those with special needs. "It felt great knowing that I could brighten someone's day just by spending time with them." Schwarz plans on using the $1,000 scholarship to earn a graduate certificate in teaching students with autism. "I'm excited to complete a graduate certificate so I can learn new strategies and ideas for the classroom."
"It makes me feel good to know that I'm making a difference in the lives of my students. I hope to continue to learn more each year and better myself as a teacher."