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For Anne Smoot’s middle school students, achievement is successfully cooking a tray of brownies, or drawing a picture of their favorite television character, or correctly identifying what day it is on the calender.

Smoot, who was recently awarded The Arc of Southern Maryland’s Educator of the Year for St. Mary’s County, had taught special education to middle school students for more than 30 years when, in 2007, she decided to take on an even more challenging role.

For the last seven years she has led the SAIL (Supporting Academics and Independent Living) program at Esperanza Middle School, where she teaches a small group of students each year.

“I try to incorporate rigor at this level. I maximize each student’s potential,” she said. Each year her class numbers about five to 10 students.

“Their disabilities interfere with progress in the general education class, even with accommodations,” she said. Students might have intellectual disabilities, autism, hearing impairments, Down syndrome or any number of other disabilities that make learning different from general methods.

So, they have a special classroom set aside in Esperanza where they work with Smoot and three paraeducators. They learn skills that will help them live more independently once they reach adulthood, she said.

“We look for opportunities for them,” she said.

In addition to skills like cooking and cleaning, Smoot and her assistants teach them academics tailored to their abilities.

They use “symbol-supported instruction,” where printed words in sentences are matched up with small pictures to help the students read.

Smoot began teaching in St. Mary’s in 1974 and lives in St. Inigoes with her husband, Irvin Smoot, who is a STEM teacher at Spring Ridge Middle School.

Smoot was honored for her dedication, expertise and ongoing support for students and families, according to a statement from St. Mary’s public schools, which said her students are consistently provided with creative and engaging learning experiences.

The Arc of Southern Maryland, which helps students with disabilities transition to adulthood, presented Smoot with the educator of the year award at its banquet in December. Teachers Judith Buckler of Calvert County and Evan Vahratian of Charles County were also honored.

Harriet Yaffe, executive director of the organization, said that teachers offer important building blocks for individuals with disabilities. The teachers honored each year are nominated by their special education supervisors.

“It’s so critical that students who have disabilities get exposed to other students, and exposed to community life,” Yaffe said.

The private, nonprofit group has existed in St. Mary’s County since 1960, when it was called St. Mary’s Association for Children, Yaffe said. It operates on federal, state and local dollars along with donations.

The group helps people like the ones Smoot teaches once they reach adulthood. Arc will help them with finances or finding a place to live, job placement and other assistance needed to live at least a semi-independent life.

“It’s an exciting time for everybody,” she said of the transition from student to adult.

jyeatman@somdnews.com