“We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own.” These words from Ben Sweetland are often unnoticed at the top Dr. Maggie Kyger's SPED 450 syllabus. However, everyone who has worked with Maggie can see how sincerely she brings truth to this statement. In her years at JMU Maggie has leapt above and beyond the call of duty to inspire others to enter one of the most challenging yet rewarding and fulfilling professions: special education. Maggie exemplifies the qualities of an exceptional teacher and has devoted her life to preparing others to become the same. Whether as a professor, advisor, mentor, friend, or colleague, Maggie's intrinsic desire to give to others is what defines her as a person. Some of her current students reflect on the ways in which she has inspired them to become special educators: “Whenever I tell others about my future career in special education, I generally get one of two responses: ‘Wow! I really have a lot of respect for future teachers; good job!' or ‘Get out now- You'll burn out after two years!' When I interact with and learn from the Special Education professors at JMU I am reaffirmed of my commitment to special education. In particular, Maggie Kyger has been with me as my advisor from day one. If I had to choose one person who continually displays energy, time, and commitment to the Special Education program, that person would be Maggie.”
Consider for a moment Maggie's Reading Instruction class: “Oh, McGregor could use this to game to learn his consonant blends!” “Emily needs to really focus on some comprehension skills- try using more examples.” “This would be a wonderful game to help DeShawn with his fluency- see if you can incorporate some visual aids!” All of these names are actual students at William Perry Elementary School who Maggie's JMU students are currently tutoring as part of their field experience. Maggie references them constantly during her class. She has gotten to know each JMU teacher candidate's students so well that she can weave examples from the field experience that she supervises right into her lecture. She constantly pushes her students to excel and exceed their own expectations because she knows that the future of many children lie in their hands. One senior affirms this, “All of her students will become better teachers and better people because we have been touched by her special gifts.”
Maggie's contributions to special education are not only limited to JMU's special education program. Before serving in her current position as undergraduate coordinator, Maggie worked with the Virginia Department of Education's Technical and Training Assistance Center at JMU. She has also worked in various other positions, including serving as the Teacher-in-Residence and Special Ed Coordinator for Augusta County Schools, as well as being a special ed teacher in both elementary and high school settings. Sally Chappel, who worked with Maggie at T/ TAC recognizes her commitment to continual collaboration with all realms of special education: “Since moving to the special education program, Maggie has continued to collaborate with me and others in providing programs at JMU that prepare high school students with disabilities and offer the opportunity to explore college life.”
Maggie's passion for advocating for children with special needs and her strong desire to spread her love for the profession to others is obvious from her involvement and leadership in related organizations. She is the faculty sponsor of JMU's Council for Exceptional Children and has taken students for the past two years to national conferences where they receive training on how to make the greatest impact on children with special needs. In addition to this, Maggie has recently spearheaded Special Education Student Ambassadors, a group of JMU students that advocate for the program and recruit potential teachers. For the past three years she has organized a Special Education Leadership Day which provides interested high school students with the opportunity to learn about JMU's program. Maggie will take time out of any day, no matter how busy, to sit and talk with an interested student and encourage them to join the program. One current student says, “After my first meeting with Maggie, I was sold.” Several others describe Maggie's enthusiasm for the program as contagious. A parent of a potential JMU student shared a story about calling Maggie to ask for directions to campus for Leadership Day and ending up chatting with her about her daughter's interests, the program and all it has to offer for thirty minutes. It is by doing extra things like this that Maggie goes above and beyond in her commitment to special education and the JMU community.
Maggie's tireless enthusiasm stretches far beyond only her students. Her colleagues recognize her as a dynamic member of what they refer to as the special education family. Dr. Karen Santos describes Maggie as a warm, giving person who has a bottomless well of ability to want to reach out and help people. “When I wonder when there's much left to give, she finds it.”
Maggie is unwavering in her convictions and a person of exemplary character. Her nature is calm and kind-hearted and she always has a smile to share, yet still she puts nothing above advocating for the needs of children. She disclosed to a colleague a time when she was so fervent in her belief that something should be done in the best interest of a child, that she took her high heel off and smacked it on the table to show that she meant business. She refuses to give up on what she believes.
Hard-working. Generous. Passionate. Collaborative. A visionary. These are all words that people who have witnessed Maggie's devotion to JMU and the field of special education remember as her exceptional qualities. A graduate student captures the essence of who she is as both a professor and a member of the JMU community when she writes, “When I think of Dr. Kyger, I think of a welcoming, wide-open office door and a warm smile. She is always approachable and truly puts her students before herself.” By doing this Maggie Kyger embodies the spirit of James Madison University . I can personally attest to this as Maggie has been a professor, mentor, advisor and friend to me. It is with much honor and admiration of this remarkable woman that I present her with the 2005 All Together One Award.