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Missoula Big Sky High School teacher is local hero

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Mar 22 2013 07:14:54 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 22 2013 07:52:23 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

NBC Montana has launched a new series called "Local Hero." Viewers may nominate people in the community they believe to be exceptional.

We're proud to feature our first winner, a special education teacher from Missoula, with an amazing talent to boost everyone around her.

The first thing you learn about WyAnn Northrop is that she is a hugger.

Her students have a mission.

"It's to find joy in every little thing," said Northrop.

WyAnn is known for her "exceptionalities" class at Big Sky High School. It pairs general education students with kids who have special needs.

"They interact, tutor and act as role models and friends to the students with disabilities," said WyAnn.

Peer tutors help kids who have a wide range of abilities and disabilities. They learn to cook and do laundry.

WyAnn oversees basic life skill classes and "exceptionalities" academic classes too.

Piper and Iaong are both general ed students. They tutor Ashley.

"I'm working on math and English," said Ashley Oykowsky.

"Its an efficient way for kids to learn," said Iaong Vang.

"I really enjoy the communication skills and I like the kids," said Iaong.

"It builds acceptance and self-esteem in all parties," said WyAnn.

It's building employment too.

James Fahlgren is one of WyAnn's former peer tutors. Today, he works with severely intellectually and developmentally challenged adults. Exceptionalities and WyAnn inspired him to this calling.

He helps men like Gary -- but call him Bear. Bear is a warm, funny man who has many challenges. Bear and James are good friends.

"It brings in a whole different emotion and passion," said James of his job. He credits WyAnn as one of the most inspirational people he's ever known.

The Missoula Developmental Service Corporation serves disabled people in 12 group homes. It's hired many of WyAnn Northrop's tutors.

"They make change happen for people. They make a difference," said MDSC's director of human resources, Karen Harrison.

WyAnn knows peer tutors become employers, who will know that it's smart to hire disabled people. They have knowledge, she said, they're hard workers who are dependable.

Big Sky High school students recently chose  WyAnn Northrop as their 2013 Diversity Week honoree.

They gave her a T-shirt. It has WyAnn's picture, and her motto on the back -- "To the world you may be one person. But to one person, you may be the world."