Career Preparation

Advocating for All Students

Heather Szarka '11, '14
BA Childhood Education/MSEd Special Education
School of Education
Westchester Campus

Heather Szarka ’11, ’14, has been working with children since she was a 13 year old R.E.A.D. Tutor in the Bronx, so it was no surprise she’d end up at Pace’s School of Education. With several positions as a substitute, student teacher, teacher assistant, teacher intern, and even sensory coach, the recent double alumna is preparing to make a difference in the lives of students, no matter their needs.

Her ultimate goal? “Teaching in an environment where all students can learn and access the curriculum while creating a lifelong love for learning. Advocating for all my students' needs is a main priority,” she says.

Earning her BA in Elementary Education from Pace’s Westchester Campus in 2011, Szarka already had several years of classroom experience as a student teacher and substitute for the Ossining School District, where she planned lessons that met state standards and curriculum, and networked her way into a substitute teacher position.

Following graduation, Szarka began working as a Pre-K teacher assistant at the Oak Lane Child Care Center, designing lesson plans, establishing centers in the classroom to enable self-learning, collaborating with parents, and creating a  hands-on curriculum to promote student interest and receptive learning.

Szarka also served as a sensory coach at WeeZee, a play, fitness, and learning facility for children of all abilities. There, she instructed and assisted children with special needs to use their senses to explore the world around them, facilitated and taught various classes, directed the after school program of more than 50 children, and even planned and conducted birthday parties.

“Working at WeeZee is what inspired me to do special education. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. 

Szarka enrolled in Pace’s MSEd in Special Education program on the Westchester Campus, worked as a graduate assistant in the School of Education (which helped pay for her degree), and held an internship, all while maintaining a Dean’s List 4.0 GPA.

Through a connection she made via Pace School of Education Professor Ellen Bergman, a site administrator for the Mt. Pleasant Blythedale School, a New York State Special Act school district that serves the education needs of K-12 patients from the connected Blythedale Children’s Hospital, Szarka secured a teacher internship for spring 2014.

“Blythedale is a school unlike any other, serving the educational needs for children with complicated medical needs resulting from congenital conditions, rare medical diagnoses, and traumatic injury,” says Szarka. “Throughout this internship, I have learned skills and strategies to reach every student, ensuring and believing every student can learn.”

There, she taught sixth grade curriculum, meeting Common Core state standards; created common assessments; collaborated with teachers on lessons; taught literacy, science, and math units; and was even given the opportunity to attend a board meeting on data driven instruction. 

“It is an environment that can provide a rich and challenging experience for a student teacher, but one that Heather has embraced and relished. I believe her understanding of effective pedagogical practices and deep knowledge base, coupled with her sensitivity and desire to foster and celebrate student achievement, has allowed her to be successful in this unique setting,” says SOE Communications and Marketing Coordinator Sofia Dupi, who also worked at Blythedale. “Her genuine desire to change the lives of children is inspiring and I know she will excel in the classroom.”

Additionally, Szarka made time to work with Pace’s Career Services Department and was awarded a 2014 Career Services Award. She credits her counselor Bless Vaidian with not only working with her on her resume and interview skills, but also helping her network with schools in Florida and securing a teaching job as a second grade teacher at Hallandale Elementary in Hallandale Beach, Florida, where she’ll bring everything she’s learned into her own classroom.

“I feel like I’ve gotten so much from Pace and my mentor teachers,” she says. “I’m ready to do this.”

You can see Szarka in action as part of the SOE Classroom Management videos, where students use the TeachLivE virtual classroom simulation technology to prepare for real classroom experiences.

Alumni Profile

Heather
Szarka

“I feel like I’ve gotten so much from Pace and my mentor teachers. I’m ready to do this.”