Oceanside native Shannon Kelly Dass has combined her loves for teaching and writing to help youth and parents alike to understand students with special needs like the ones she works with every day. In her recently published book, “Charlie’s Journey”, Dass aims to give a voice to the students she teaches and is inspired by.
Dass attended the University of Hartford, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education with a concentration in literature. During her school breaks, she spent time in classrooms with students with special needs. “And as I got to know that population a little bit better, I kind of just fell in love with working with them,” Dass said.
Her positive experience with this classroom environment led her to pursue a master’s degree in special education from Teachers College at Columbia University.
Alexandra Gordon, a friend of Dass’, said the profession for perfect for her. “Shannon is very patient, understanding and outgoing,” Gordon said. “She is such a caring friend and always makes time for the people close to her.” Gordon added that Dass was always willing to help her with papers and offered to help with schoolwork.
After completing her schooling, Dass started out in an elementary school in Jericho working as a resource room teacher. Her experiences there helped create some of the scenarios seen in “Charlie’s Journey.” Dass now teaches at H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, helping special education students who might be struggling with English classes.
When Covid-19 created shutdowns in March, Dass used her creative writing skills fostered throughout her schooling as a form of therapy. Her re-ignited passion for writing coupled with her experiences with teaching in a resource room setting led Dass to start conceptualizing her book.
Dass wanted to explore some of the emotional effects that can come from the experience of the one-on-one teaching relationship. Readers spend the book inside the head of the titular character as he meets and comes to like his resource room teacher Ms. Keenan. Dass drew on her experiences as a student who struggled in some classes and those of the students she works with to give a voice to the special education population about the challenges they face.
”I think it was the culmination of working with so many different students of so many different ability levels, and then on top of that thinking of my own experiences, like how I felt in school when I was struggling, especially for me when it came to math,” Dass said of characterizing Charlie.
Dass noted that the pandemic has made connecting with students a challenge. She only sees her students every other day and the rest is over Google Meet, where sometimes students don’t want to turn their cameras on.
“It’s difficult. I would say it’s better that we’re back, but you can feel that lack of connection and what it’s doing to the students,” Dass said.
Dass said she is excited to continue to explore the connection between her passions for writing and teaching. As she continues with her teaching career, she said she is also pleased to continue to learn more about her students’ experiences and make them known to a wider audience.
“I think what I love about the book is that even though it’s a children’s book, it’s an opportunity for adults to learn,” she said. The subject of the book is something that Dass is passionate about and said she feels that more people should have a better understanding of. Additionally, she said, she wants readers to realize the work that the students put in.