By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Retiring special ed teacher will be missed
parkinson web
Patty Parkinson stands in a hallway of Coastal Academy next to a mural that has come to symbolize her work helping special education students adjust to life. - photo by Photo by Lauren Hunsberger
Patty Parkinson’s dedication to the students at Coastal Academy is written on the walls of the school, — literally.
When visitors walk in the front door of the old school on Gause Street they’re transported to the depths of the sea where colorful fish and treasure chests hide around every turn. The art project, which covers the majority of the tall hallways, started almost a decade ago when Parkinson, in an attempt to relax a distraught student in the midst of a breakdown, had him visualize being a fish freely floating in the ocean.
When the 5-year-old student, known for extreme and uncontrollable bouts of rage, had a positive response to Parkinson’s relaxation technique, she ran with the idea, subsequently spending lots of time and energy transforming the school.
She said the fish idea worked so well for the student that after a few years he was able to control his emotions and eventually was placed into a regular public school.
“You do whatever works,” Parkinson said. “You try everything to help a child.”
While painting elaborate murals was certainly not part of her job description, it’s one of many examples demonstrating the lengths she has gone to for her students.
Now, after working for Coastal Academy (which has two other locations, Brunswick and Camden) for almost two and half decades, she’s retiring. But, like the fish on the walls, her dedication to the school and students will be felt for a long time to come.
As a family services coordinator it’s been Parkinson’s job to help both the students and their parents cope with having special learning needs. It’s a broad description because she said her duties are always different and change daily, even hourly sometimes. But she said despite the numerous ways to go about it, her main goal is to help students live happy, fulfilling lives.
“It’s a wonderful job in that you build relationships, you grow with them,” she said. “We have some really great kids.”
The school has nine classes, each with fewer than 10 students who vary in age, functioning level, IQ and disabilities. She said the children also, based on their individual learning needs, sometimes switch classrooms for certain subjects or might spend time in regular schools, making her job of orchestrating schedules complicated.
“A teacher has to be very talented to deal with it all. The students’ behaviors are extreme at times and they have to change gears all day long. My job is to help them do that in any way I can,” she said.
But it’s not just the students and their families who have felt the impact of her dedication. Dr. Aderemi Dosunmu, a psychiatrist who works with some of the children at Coastal Academy said she’s truly one of the most selfless people he knows.
“I’ve known her for about five years and in all that time, every time I run into her, she’s always in the middle of yet another rescue mission. She’s always rescuing somebody. Sometimes, it’s one of her students. Other times, it’s some student’s family members,” he said.
Although she’s leaving her official position she said she will never be able to really separate herself from the profession she loves and plans to stay in touch with the kids and teachers. She also thanked all her co-workers and her family for their unwavering support throughout her career.

Sign up for our e-newsletters