‘Life-changing work’ earns Bremerton teacher $5K prize

Every student enters their teachers classrooms with different needs that can result in unique challenges.

Such was the case when Daniel Luzitano entered his first-grade classroom at Armin Jahr Elementary School in the fall of 2021.

Aside from being an energetic and smart kid like the rest of his classmates, he started the year with severe emotional and behavior problems.

“He’s super smart,” said Daniel’s father, Johnny. “Like, high IQ smart, but emotional IQ is kind of low. He doesn’t know how to process things. When he gets overwhelmed or anxious and stuff like that, he doesn’t shut down like most people. He goes outward.”

For example, while most kids can handle the disappointment of not being called on right away by their teacher, Daniel’s inability to process such a scenario would lead to aggressive outbursts in class. The disruptions would consist of yelling and screaming, hitting things off tables and more.

A lot of the same behavior occurred at home. Despite a year of occupational therapy and input from specialists, no real progress was made.

So, Daniel’s parents met with his teacher, Ashleigh Schiano-Oliver, who is going on her 10th year at Armin Jahr. She had begun a daily routine of informing the parents of what she saw, but she knew it was time to talk more in-depth with them to find out what “makes Daniel tick.”

“Each kid has their own recipe to their bodies and how they learn and function,” she said.

Schiano-Oliver said she implemented several strategies to help Daniel get the attention he needed following the meeting. One was having him get her attention by standing by her and touching her shoulder or elbow when he needed something. She would respond by meeting his hand with hers to give him the acknowledgment he was seeking.

“It was giving him that reassurance that he’s being noticed,” she said, “and then it was able to transition from him doing that to just standing there and waiting.”

She also began to teach Daniel sign language. She said it gives her and Daniel a means of communication so that he did not disrupt his classmates.

The work of Schiano-Oliver and school counselor Valerie Walston with Daniel slowly began to improve his behavior inside and outside of school. Now in second grade and 7 years old, his parents say he’s doing better than ever.

Luzitano is so grateful for the attitude Schiano-Oliver has toward Daniel. “Just let us know not to worry; that this is not a give-up. This is a challenge for her, and she loves challenges.”

The hard work paid off not just for Daniel and his family, but for Schiano-Oliver as she was awarded a $5,000 prize from Honored, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping great teachers in the classroom and recognizing their work on a national level.

Honored co-founder Karen Sonneborn said the impact made on Daniel’s family made the teacher worthy of the award.

“It (the story) was so powerful for us to read,” Sonneborn said. “She absolutely just transformed not only Daniel’s student life, but also, really, the life of the family because how a child is feeling impacts the whole family dynamic.”

Schiano-Oliver was shocked to be the recipient of such an honor, and said she hopes to have that big of an impact on all of her students lives.

“I find that I have special bonds with all my kids and families, and I’m going to do whatever I need to do to instill lifelong lessons,” she said. “Not just what they have to learn to succeed to the next grade, but what life skills I can teach them to help them prepare and strategies to help them continue their learning and growing.”