44 Years of Shaping Lives at Abilities First

Fresh out of college in the fall of 1977, Gloria O’Leary started the new school year as a teacher at what was then known as Abilities First’s North Road location. She worked her way through plenty of Abilities First school programs: Violet Avenue, Delafield, Myers, and UPK in Hyde Park, from which she retired at the end of a 44-year career with Abilities First! 

Gloria was a special teacher in the Abilities First program. She was duly certified in general education and special education, and her proficiency in sign language allowed her to communicate with all students. Even beyond her credentials, she had the passion to not only teach, but to help her students grow and learn. 

Her classroom was structured and organized, allowing both the opportunity for self-discipline and the freedom for students to explore their innate interests and desires. She engaged the students to help create their classroom rules and boundaries so they could work as a team. She helped students grow and learn by redirecting behaviors when needed, which allowed the individual to gain skills and make good choices. All these values, lessons, and behaviors that she instilled in her students carried into their homes and their lives. 

Gloria shared that the most rewarding part of her job at Abilities First was helping the children utilize their potential to be all they could. She saw the child for who they were, and not their disability. One of her favorite memories was receiving a note and a graduation picture from a parent 20 years after their child had been her student. The parent told Glorida that the student was graduating from Marist College, and they thanked her for seeing the potential in their child and helping them reach for it.  

Gloria took great pride in her work and each student. She is hopeful that “today’s teachers and future teachers truly see the child they teach, understand all are different and wonderful, and take the interest to teach them to be kind to themselves and others. Every moment is a learning opportunity.”  

Congratulations on your retirement, Gloria! We thank you for all you have contributed to those who worked with you and benefitted from you as their teacher.