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Jessica Chappell, 27
Seventh and eighth grade special education teacher, Nixa Public Schools School District
Jessica Chappell’s journey as a special education teacher started in high school when she attended a two-week medical camp at St. Louis University. During a rotation on play therapy, she was introduced to autism. After that she worked at a summer camp and grew close to a resident on the autism spectrum. The rest, as they say, is history.
A Drury graduate, Jessica first taught in Willard and now works for Nixa schools with junior high special education students. In two years she has established NEST (Nixa Eagles Soaring Together), a program that pairs special needs students of all ages with high school athletes for Olympics-style competition. For the special education students it’s a night to be celebrated and showcase talents. For the athletes it’s an appreciation for their own abilities and the realization that everyone possesses talents. (Jessica’s students’ talents sometimes include singing Lady GaGa’s complete works or drawing portraits from memory.) “These students create friendships that carry on the rest of the year,” Jessica says. “They have high fives and talk about it for a long time afterward.”
Outside of the classroom, Jessica has helped develop Nixa district’s new Dynamic Learning Map, a new way to assess Nixa’s special education students on standardized tests. Jessica and her husband—Chadwick basketball coach Jason Chappell—live in Ozark with their son, Lincoln, 2.
Job title and where you work: Seventh and eight grade Special Education Teacher
Education: BS in Elementary Education from Drury University
City or town where you live: Ozark
1. How did you end up at your current job/profession?
When I was in high school I attended a summer medical camp at Saint Louis University. While attending this camp we did a rotation to learn about the benefits of Play Therapy. This rotation sparked my interest in Special Education and individuals with disabilities. My desire to help individuals with special needs was enhanced during the summer of 2005, when I worked with a child with autism who was visually and hearing impaired. After this experience I began my college career studying Elementary Education.
2. Where do you find passion to do what you do?
I find passion when my students’ master new skills that each of us take for granted on a daily basis.
3. Are you single/married, and do you have any kids?
I am married to Jason Chappell who is a combat veteran that utilized his GI bill to pursue his passion for history and is currently a high school history teacher for Chadwick Public Schools. We have one son named Lincoln who just turned 2 in January.
4. What are your hobbies (when you’re not working)?
I enjoy watching/attending sporting events with my family, taking my son to the park, and spending other quality time with family.
5. Are you involved in any charitable organizations?
I have been involved in helping organize and run the NEST (Nixa Eagles Soaring Together) event with Nixa and participated in Partners in Strength with the Willard School district. Both of these events paired students with disabilities and high school athletes together for a night of fun sporting events that highlight each students’ talents. These events are extremely important to me because they help build a bond in our school community and highlight that each and every person has hidden talents.
6. Are you a member of any professional organizations?
I have been a member of MSTA since 2009.
7. How would you define the secret to success?
To put it simply: hard work, dedication and integrity.
8. What's your favorite thing about your career?
I would have to say it being able to uncover hidden talents in my students. Most often times these students abilities have been underestimated and it is always a rewarding and exciting feeling when new skills and talents are uncovered.
9. What's your favorite thing about working in 417-land?
I was raised here in 417-land, and therefore I feel like this is a close-knit community that is supportive and uplifting. The people you encounter in this area are down to earth, understanding, and friendly.
10. If you could go back and give the high school version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
It all works out! Stay calm and keep working towards your goals; they will pay off and you will find a fulfilling career that gives you what you always wanted.
11. What was your “dream job” at age 5?
I wanted to be a Pediatric Pulmonologist, so that I could help other kids with asthma.
12. List three traits that define a successful career:
Again I would have to say hard work, dedication, and integrity.
13. Why are you a 20 Under 30?
I am a 20 Under 30 because I have been blessed with a wonderful support system. I have always been pushed by my family to live up to my potential; they always expected great things from me. I have also been blessed with both friends and coworkers that have taught me to be ethical, caring, and courageous when it comes to teaching students with disabilities. In finding a home with Nixa Public Schools my support system has grown exponentially. From day one they have made me feel at home with the district and supported me in every aspect of my position.
14. What projects do you have on the horizon at your job that you’re excited about?
I am excited about our upcoming NEST (Nixa Eagles Soaring Together) night. During this event high school athletes are grouped together with students with disabilities. Throughout the course of the evening the athletes and the students work together to build a team and complete athletic challenges. This night truly highlights the different talents that each student possesses and strengthens our student community.
15. What completed project are you most proud of?
At this point I am most proud of last year’s NEST event. Last year was the first year for Nixa Public Schools to hold the event and we had a wonderful turnout with over 60 students in attendance. We were able to give not only the students but also the families a night to celebrate their abilities and highlight their individual talents. Through this event we created friendship and sense of camaraderie that is rarely found in school these days.
Fill in the following blanks with five words or less:
The endless possibilities make life worth living.
A day at work wouldn't be complete without challenges.
Ten years from now, I hope I'm still with Nixa Public Schools.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would visit my brother in Hawaii. (He is currently stationed there with the Marine Corps.)
The best part about being a 20 under 30 is sharing my passion for students with disabilities.