Caricato says that is the key to improving the lives of her special needs students at Mesa Middle School.
"When our students are in the classroom, I just don't want them to be in the classroom. We really strive to have them involved with what's happening. We like the students to be out and doing all the other things that other kids are doing."
This is Caricato's second school year at Mesa. However, for the last two decades, she has worked with special-needs programs within the Douglas County School District.
This has been Caricato's calling since she was a teenager. She would take every chance she could to sit in her aunt's classroom who taught children with special needs. Her mother was also a teacher of students with moderate special needs. Caricato knew early on that she wanted to help students who have more significant challenges.
One parent describes the impact Caricato has had on her family.
"As a mom with two special-needs kids, it is really hard to know what is next, what they need to be successful. Mary really only has one of my children and only for about one year of his life, but within the first few months of watching him, she has been able to identify some issues that if we work on now, will allow him to be more successful in any task later in life."
Aside from working individually with students on reading, writing and typical middle-school curriculum, Caricato helps the children grasp life skills through class projects. The students bake in the kitchen in their classroom. They wash their own gym clothes at school.
"Someday, some of them may be living on their own, and they're going to need to know how to cook, they're going to need how to do laundry. I want them to be able to function in society and to be able to hold jobs. They need to hold relationships with people, develop friendships and live on their own if they can."
The students in Caricato's class are confident in themselves because they are accepted by their peers. They have their teacher to thank for that as well.
As soon as Caricato arrived at Mesa in fall of 2011, she set up the Project Unify program.
"It's a program that teaches our general-education students how to respect and advocate for students with special needs," Caricato said. " We started a club here at Mesa with five kids, and it has blosoomed into something huge."
Shelly Hall, parent of a 13-year-old with Down Syndrome, says her daughter's life has changed dramatically since Caricato brought Project Unify to Mesa.
"Last August, Hannah made the very scary transition from grade school to middle school," Hall said. "Since Project Unify was introduced, my daughter has gained a group of 'typical peer friends.' Mary has made Hannah's school experience enjoyable by ensuring she is included. Hannah is enjoying school so much more now and each night before bed she happily says, "I am going to school tomorrow! Woo Hoo!
Caricato is most honored by the fact that parents of current and former students came together to nominate her for the 9Teachers Who Care award.
"The little things we do as educators, really do have a big impact in kids' lives."
Caricato is quick to credit her strong team of assistants for keeping the daily schedule running and the energy high.
"You have these kids walking in the classroom and smiling and saying how they want to be here every day. That's what keeps me going every day."
To learn more about the 9Teacher Who Care program or to nominate a teacher that is making a positive impact:
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