- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

AUBURN, Ill. (AP) - Ann Young could easily be pegged for a hippie judging from all the peace signs that hang on the walls in her classroom and dangle from her bracelet. But you would be wrong.

“My mother never would have allowed that,” she said.

For Young, who’s retiring after 33 years, including 26 as a special education teacher at Auburn High School, the peace sign is more than just a symbol. It represents a philosophy.

“Most people look at it as something that was cute from the ‘60s,” she said. “For me, it really had a message.

“Not just world peace, but personal peace and peace with your neighbor in here and acceptance of our differences, and maybe even more than that, a celebration of our differences.”

That philosophy of peace and embracing of all students is one of the ways Young stood out and why she will be missed, Auburn’s superintendent, Darren Root, and high school principal Nathan Essex said.

“I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like (Young),” Root said. “She treats all students like they’re her own kid. It’s just part of her nature. You can’t teach that.”

Young, a Rushville native who grew up in the 1960s, said thinking about retiring is a very bittersweet feeling.

For the past 33 years, she has taught special education at the high school level. In Auburn, she teaches art, math, science, English and social studies.

Throughout the school year, Young said, people have asked her what she will miss most and she quickly corrects them.

“It’s not ‘what’ but ‘who,’” she said. “It’s the students, the teachers, the administration, the support staff and the parents. Everything really works well here.”

Teaching special education wasn’t her initial plan, but she discovered early on that it suited her, Young said. In special education, it’s easier to bond with students than in a traditional classroom, she said.

“When you have a classroom of 30 kids every hour, it’s not even close to the same connection I get,” Young said. “I have kids who accidentally call me grandma because we spend so much time together.”

At Auburn High School, football coach Dave Bates called Young an “icon” who truly is in it for the students.

“I can’t tell you how many kids who have struggled academically that she’s helped out,” Bates said. “She has all the characteristics of a great teacher.”

Joy Jewell, a sophomore at Auburn, considers herself one of those students. Her freshman year, Jewell was struggling in English class and went to Young for help.

“If not for her, I probably would still be a freshman,” Jewell said. “She cares about her students and goes above and beyond. I’m going to be a nervous wreck next year.”

As for all those peace signs in the classroom, they’re starting to dwindle as she passes them out to students and staff, Young said.

She can’t give them all away, though, because she hopes to substitute teach next year and stay connected to the people who have made her career so much fun, Young said.

“I still love doing it,” she said of teaching special education. “It felt right the very first year, and it’s what I’ve done forever.”

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/24R575W

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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