Festavan named HES Teacher of the Year

Happy days are always encouraged in Allison Festavan’s classroom. On the board are a little pigeon and a duckling drawn for her students by her daughter, Campbell, who is also a kindergarten student at HES this year.

Happy days are always encouraged in Allison Festavan’s classroom. On the board are a little pigeon and a duckling drawn for her students by her daughter, Campbell, who is also a kindergarten student at HES this year.

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

Allison Festavan, Helena Elementary School Teacher of the Year, is in her 11th year teaching kindergarten (early childhood) special education.

“My mother taught at Thompson for 25 years,” Festavan said. “I attended all 12 grades at Thompson schools and vowed to never become a teacher, because I saw how many hours beyond the school day my mother put in. My father was a counselor at UAB, so I had a nurturing lifestyle modeled—it’s just in my blood.”

“I love kids,” she added. “In high school I taught in a dance studio, and I realized teaching was an inevitable path for me.”

Festavan was involved in The Rise Program in Tuscaloosa (inclusive school model) and worked as an aide in the ECLIPSE program while pursuing her degree.

“Kindergarten is such a social grade,” she enthuses. “Yes, we focus on academics, but they learn more from the engagement with their peers in a real setting. My students are developmentally delayed; some are non-verbal and they are challenged by application.

“For them to be in a setting where they can apply the skills that are being taught is essential.”

Festavan said children now are much more accepting of children with special needs because they are more integrated.

“My aide is my right hand,” Festavan said. “All during the day, we tag team back and forth with the children in 30-minute sessions.

“It is my job to foster independence—to help each child find his strengths and accentuate them and when the time comes, give them that gradual push,” she said. “It is amazing to see their progression towards confidence.”

Festavan said she is also an advocate for the parents of these children, who themselves may be worried about how their child’s disability is going to impact the family.

“I promise my parents that I will be straight with them,” Festavan said. “Having that open and honest relationship has been important to me over the years.”

Festavan employs a “high five” system, an incentive tracked on the board, where each child receives a hand with five fingers when they have a positive session. When they accumulate five hands, they get to go to her treasure box.