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Education Aide Jackie Kocak Wins National Recognition

A LifeScape education aide has been recognized for excellence in meeting the needs of children with special needs. Lead Teaching Assistant Jackie Kocak was named the 2023 Direct Care Worker of the Year by the National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC). It currently represents over 200 programs nationally. She received the award at the NAPSEC Annual Leadership Conference in New Orleans on January 17th.

As a 20-year member of the LifeScape Specialty School staff, Jackie is widely seen as the perfect teaching assistant. She is calm, gentle, and patient with her students. She mentors other staff, supports the teachers, and has an unfailing positive attitude. She is thorough in her work and ensures others are, too, recognizing the vital importance of their work with children gaining skills.

“Walking into the room where Jackie works is one of the best feelings, because you know you’re going to see top education services and amazing interaction with the students,” says Lifescape Specialty School Principal Brittany Dawson. “She’s always calm and has such love and compassion of each of our students.”

“She was the one who taught me how to interact with the students,” says Education Program Specialist Shelly Bohy. Shelly had joined the staff as a young teacher 20 years ago– her first time working with kids with communication barriers and significant medical needs. “I watched the way Jackie interacted with the students. She talked to them, making eye contact, knowing they would not always be able to respond but assuming that they knew what she was saying to them. She was gentle and would explain to them what was happening. She would include them in everything she was doing and ensured that each of them had a way to participate, despite their physical barriers.”

Jackie is so deserving of this award,” says Tasha Roth, whose son, Ethan, is a student in the LifeScape Specialty School. “She is kind and compassionate, and her heart is put on display when she works with these amazing and special kids. As a mom of one of the kids that Jackie has poured herself into, I have nothing but respect, and thankfulness for her. I love that she was nationally recognized! She is making a huge difference in the lives of these kids and their families, too.”

Jackie was recognized for her honor by the South Dakota Legislature in March 2022.

Typically humble, Jackie says she doesn’t understand all the fuss—she’s just doing her job—but that she loves the children and her work with them. Jackie will retire at the end of this school year, but her example has taught and inspired everyone she’s worked with over the years, creating a legacy of excellence and respect.

Congratulations to Jackie for this well-deserved award!

Photo: Jackie, second from left, received the award at a conference in New Orleans. Also shown, left to right, are Superintendent Dr. Vicki Isler of the LifeScape Specialty School, Jackie’s husband David, and Vice President of Residential & Education Gerry Tracy. Since 1971, NAPSEC has supported student access to quality special education programs.

The Story on Jackie by Dakota News Now

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