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Michael Bernardis Named SCOE Teacher of the Year 2002

Teacher to Represent SCOE in County Competition

Michael Bernardis

Michael Bernardis has been selected as the SCOE Teacher of the Year 2002.

Michael Bernardis, an employee of the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) Infant Development Program, serves infants and toddlers who have special education needs. He works at both the Prairie Infant Center in south Sacramento and in the homes of families whose children are in need of services.

Michael Bernardis has served as a Teacher-In-Charge for the Infant Development Program, a Mentor Teacher, and as a presenter at numerous special education seminars and conferences. He also has participated actively in the training of students enrolled in the California State University, Sacramento, Early Childhood Education Special Education Program. During the 2000-2001 school year, Michael Bernardis assisted the California Department of Education/Special Education Division by serving as a member of the Verification Review team. He is currently a member of the Asset-Based Collaborative, an inter-agency team that is planning training and policy changes to assist the Infant Development Program and other agencies in Sacramento to provide services to families of young children with special needs using asset-based, resource-based techniques.

The children taught by Bernardis are between the ages of birth to three years old, and have qualified for Infant Development Program services due to a delayed development in cognitive, language, gross motor, fine motor and/or social skills. Children diagnosed with specific medical syndromes, such as Down Syndrome, also qualify for Infant Development Program services. Says Bernardis, "As an early childhood special education teacher, I believe that the development of children with special needs is intimately tied to the relationship these children have with their parents, whether they be natural birth parents, foster parents, guardians or grandparents. The focus on the total family, and not merely on the child, is the key philosophical aspect of my teaching style. I cannot separate the growth and development of this child from the simultaneous growth and development of the parents."

Bernardis has been instrumental in expanding education to outside the walls of the classroom and the home, notably in helping establish an inclusive playgroup that serves children of students attending Cosumnes River College and children with special needs. Says Bernardis, "I am there to assist the family with the child's involvement in their community, their neighborhood, in the daily natural environment in which the family lives... The desired outcome for this family is to be self-sufficient, and to know how to access their community for supports and services that will enhance the development and acceptance of their special-needs child within their neighborhood, community and eventually their local school."

Michael Bernardis, who has 23 years of teaching experience, received his B.A. degree in Religious Studies / Theology / Philosophy / Psychology from St. Mary's College and his M.A. degree in Special Education from California State University. He has earned secondary education, SH (severely handicapped) education, and resource specialist teaching credentials. He was hired by the Sacramento County Office of Education in1986 as a teacher of special day classes at elementary and middle schools; he has worked in the Infant Development Program since 1990.

According to Infant Development Program Principal Gina Guarneri, "'Family-School Collaboration' is a concept widely discussed in education. Michael lives Family-School Collaboration on a daily basis. Michael takes the time to learn about the child with the family. Ongoing discussion with the family about what they have done, what their dreams are for their child, and favorite activities and people in the child's and family's lives provides the basis for an educational program that builds on the family's strengths. Michael is a gifted learner; he is able to assist parents/caregivers in identifying their priorities for their child and family and developing an Individualized Family Service Plan. Michael will take time to research options for families, and is willing to design unique programs to meet individual family needs."

"A teacher dedicated to the act of giving" is how SCOE Special Education Director Gary Scott Johnson describes Michael Bernardis. "Mr. Bernardis is often one of the first professionals to enter a family's home and offer educational support to an infant or toddler with special needs," he explains. "Often families are devastated by the news that their sons and daughters have a disability. Sensitivity, care, and the art of listening with the richness of heart are essential elements in supporting the family. Through an open, non-judgmental presence and a truly empathetic style, Mr.Bernardis is able to develop a meaningful partnership with the family. Within this relationship, Mr. Bernardis is able to assist the family to identify and prioritize their concerns, mobilize resources and increase their ease and comfort in their daily interactions with their child." Concludes Gary Scott Johnson, "Mr. Bernardis's gentle presence and positive emphasis helps to provide the family with an opportunity to perceive the innate ability, the wonderful gifts, of their child."

Diana Barnes, the parent of one of Michael Bernardis's former students, agrees. In her letter recommending Michael Bernardis as Teacher of the Year, she wrote:

"During [son] Joshua's first evaluation at preschool last year, the head special education teacher stated, 'I believe that Joshua made a smooth and easy transition to preschool because of all of the effort and emphasis placed on him by the [SCOE] Infant Development Department.' I, in particular, give credit where it is deserved, and that would be Michael in his teaching and training of not only Joshua, but our family. Being the parent of a child with special needs is a challenge, yet it can be and is very rewarding when you are a member of a team that provides help, encouragement, direction and support. Michael showed me that my viewpoint was valuable. And I now have the confidence to advocate for my child and his special needs because I was part of the 'right' team. Through Michael working with and teaching Joshua and me, Joshua is [now] a self-confident, exuberant, bright, inquisitive, and a well-behaved four-year-old who enjoys learning! Michael brought a sense of purpose and meaning to our special needs child's life as well as our family's. He's (already) Teacher of the Year to me, this year and always!"

Michael Bernardis was honored at the Sacramento County Teachers of the Year Banquet held on September 10 at the Sacramento Hilton. He will be recognized in October by the Sacramento County Board of Education. During the 2001–02 NBA season, Michael Bernardis will be honored with all of the school district Teachers of the Year in Sacramento County during halftime of a Sacramento Kings game at ARCO Arena.

Michael Bernardis holding 3-year-old child

Teacher Michael Bernardis with Joshua Barnes (shown at age 3).