PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — School leaders at Simonsdale Elementary in Portsmouth say what makes Ms. Thomasine Eley stand out is not only the passion she shows for her own students, but also her willingness to extend that passion to each and every child regardless of whether they’re in her classroom or not.

Ms. Eley’s students are considered “severe-profound.” They have a wide range of very serious learning disabilities.  

“I just love the kids,” Eley said. “The way they interact with the world is totally different than what we are accustomed to.”

Much of her work depends on connecting with students through physical touch. Re-working her classroom for a socially distanced world had a lot of challenges. Challenges she says she couldn’t tackle alone.

“The parents have played a major part,” Eley said. “The parents, the care providers, even the siblings. A couple of the kids have siblings who are at home as well but also are in school themselves. They will sit with their sibling the entire time when they should be doing their own classwork, trying to help their brother or sister do what we’re asking them to do has been a big help.”

When in-person learning returned briefly to Portsmouth schools last fall, Ms. Eley had no hesitations coming back to the classroom.

“I missed the classroom. I missed the students.”

Even when it meant taking on students from other schools where there was a shortage of special education teachers who could teach in-person.

The pandemic worsened in October and classes went back to full virtual.

Now they’re back to a hybrid model of learning and Ms. Eley says she couldn’t be more excited to have some students back in class. She looks forward to the day she can welcome and hug each and every one of her students.