Features June 2020

North Valley Mom Champions Special Education

From a young age, North Valley resident Molly Davis has always had a strong role model when it came to the importance of education.

“Growing up, my mom was a teacher and always supported my learning,” says Davis. “She eventually became a principal and then a superintendent, and was always an amazing example to look up to.”

Growing up in Grayslake, Illinois – a stone’s throw away from Wisconsin – Davis always dreamed of following in her mom’s footsteps and becoming a teacher herself, although it took a diagnosis to truly helped her find her passion.

“In 3rd grade, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and learning disabilities, and I began taking special education classes in middle school,” recalls Davis. “I had the most amazing teachers who really opened my eyes and inspired me to become an advocate for special education.”

After graduating from high school in 2003, Davis set her sights on college and moved across the country to attend Arizona State University.

“Phoenix is so different from Chicagoland, but has always felt like a home away from home,” says Davis. “Growing up, my family visited once a year to see my grandparents who retired here. I was thrilled to go somewhere familiar, but get far away from home!”

In 2007, after overcoming challenges and graduating with honors, Davis retuned to her home state and spent the next five years teaching special education at a public school in Chicago.

“Working in public schools can be challenging as they typically only offer a single, self-contained classroom for special education, and I found myself craving more support,” says Davis. “I was yearning to move back to Arizona when I discovered ACCEL, and it was a perfect fit.”

ACCEL is a nonprofit organization and private school that serves children and adults who have developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, cognitive disabilities and behavioral disorders.

“I was drawn to the environment – ACCEL is a school exclusively serving students who have disabilities, so every teacher is going through a similar experience and can relate to and support each other,” says Davis. “Our main goal is to help students achieve a life of dignity and self-worth.”

Since relocating to the Valley and beginning her role at ACCEL in 2014, Davis has spent her time in a classroom with students aged five to nine years old.

“For some of these little ones, it may be their first time in a classroom, so there’s a lot of growth going on,” says Davis. “I live for the little moments, seeing them use a learned skill for the first time or even just saying my name, which is the most amazing sound!”

For Davis, teaching in a special education classroom is a blend of academic learning and applying behavioral skills.

“We focus on life skills in the form of self-help and self-regulation with behavior, coping and community skills,” says Davis. “For example: it’s okay to get angry, but here’s something else we can do instead when we have those feelings.. That helps the student reach their ultimate goal, which is to get back to a general education classroom where they can learn effectively with public school peers.”

More than anything, Davis utilizes her own experience in special education to advocate for her students.

“I can relate to what they’re experiencing because I’ve been in their shoes,” says Davis. “What’s important to remember is that we’re all humans before anything else, and these students deserve the same compassion and respect as any other student or adult. Difficult moments don’t define them.”

The other thing that helps her bond with her students even more? Being a mother herself.

“After having my own daughter, Hadley, everything clicked and I saw each of my students as someone else’s baby,” says Davis. “I treat my students the same way I would like my child to be treated, and it has absolutely made me a better teacher.”

For four-year-old Hadley, having Davis working from home these past months has given her an opportunity to experience education for herself.

“Hadley hasn’t started school yet, but she has really enjoyed being able to meet my students as I’ve been working from home,” says Davis. “Every time I hop on a Zoom call to teach a lesson, she insists on popping in to say hi and even knows several of my students by name. It’s amazing to share this experience with her, it reminds me of growing up with my own mom.”

With just the two of them at home, Davis and Hadley have further developed their already inseparable bond.

“I’ve been a single parent for almost all of Hadley’s life, which has definitely been challenging at times but is so rewarding,” says Davis. “While I’m grateful to be able to co-parent with her dad, it isn’t always easy. You have to learn to adapt to both roles and play both good and bad cop, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

In difficult times, whether navigating single parenting or advocating for her students, her personal motto inspires her to push through.

“No matter the challenge, I will do ‘whatever it takes’ for my daughter and my students,” says Davis.

Written by: Annelise Krafft

Annelise Krafft, the daughter of local reporter Steve Krafft, earned her Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communication with a dual emphasis in Public Relations and Advertising and a minor in Spanish from Northern Arizona University before settling into the world of freelance writer and public relations at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix earlier this year. In her spare time, the Arizona native enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, Daniel, playing with her two dogs and tracking the latest celebrity gossip. akrafft@hmapr.com.

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