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Laura Camino Called to Notre Dame to Teach Through Heart and Soul

St. Catherine of Alexandria Award in Professional Education

What may seem like a lifetime ago, Laura Jean Camino completed the coursework for a master’s degree and teaching certificate in science education at the Ohio State University. She was moved to immediately teach in Columbus, Ohio, public schools, where she spent time nurturing at-risk youth who were not even allowed in school buildings. 

Her students thrived, but the amount of time and emotion Camino invested living with and learning through these disenfranchised youth and their families in that urban environment took its toll. She never attempted her thesis. 

When illness in her own family called her home to Northeast Ohio, Camino found a new mission—not only teaching science but also working with special needs intervention specialists in Mentor, Ohio, schools.

Then family called a second time, and she became full-time teacher to son Dominic, now 8.

As Camino raised her son, she was called, this time, by the things she had left unfinished. So she returned to school—to Notre Dame College—where she was determined to finish what she had started more than 20 years earlier: her master's degree in professional education.  

“And Laura has done it, with beauty, grace and compassion, caring as much for her classmates—some of them with learning differences of their own—as for the special needs students she teaches,” said Nancy Baird, Ph.D., director of the graduate program in professional education and assistant professor of education.   

Recognized for her inspiring mind, heart and spirit, Camino, who graduated from Notre Dame with her Master of Education degree this spring, is the 2013 recipient of the St. Catherine of Alexandria Award in professional education. She was honored during the College’s graduate commencement ceremony.

“Laura embraces the values of being present, being there, not being in a big hurry, always being willing to listen and to help others,” said Frances Ulrich, Ed.D., associate professor of professional education.   “Laura exudes the spirit of Catholic instruction and appreciation for all people, regardless of their abilities. She never sees disability.”  

A science and special education teacher, Camino is a full-time instructor at Mayfield High School, where she teaches two integrated science courses on energy and the environment to 11th- and 12th-graders and a math course to ninth-graders. She also leads two learning centers for students with special needs and is case manager for 15 students with disabilities, directing their Individualized Education Plans (IEP).

Her action research project, capstone to the master’s program at Notre Dame, sought to increase special needs students’ on-task classroom behavior and improve their sense of self-efficacy to lead to improved academic achievement.

She developed a nine-week program of regular, explicit instruction to teach organizational skills to ninth- and 10th-graders—after learning that students with special needs struggle with behaviors, like organization, controlled by the brain’s executive function. Of the students who participated in Camino’s study, two-thirds showed improved academic performance and 50 percent increased levels of self-efficacy and positive classroom behavior.

The master’s degree she received  from the College meets the mild-moderate intervention specialist and reading endorsement requirements.

“Laura was always willing to aid her colleagues, in their place, with their students, in their context. She embraces ecumenical values in her everyday life, not just in her research, her assignments or her teaching,” Ulrich said. “Laura’s genuine affinity for all others, her natural sense to give of herself—of her heart and soul—truly sets her apart.”

Camino began her teaching career at Linmoor Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, where she spent three years as an eighth-grade science and health instructor and one year on special assignment as a home/school/community agent, working with at-risk youth outside of the classroom.

She then taught seventh- through ninth-grade life, physical and earth sciences for nine years at Shore Junior High School in Mentor, where she served as a multidisciplinary inclusion team member contributing to students’ IEPs.

Camino earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she transferred after two years at Miami University of Ohio. She gained her first teaching license after completing coursework toward a master’s degree in science education at Ohio State.

The 2012 recipient of the Reading Praxis Achievement Award from Notre Dame, Camino was runner-up for the Lubrizol Science Teacher of the Year Award. She is a former Martha Holden Jennings Foundation Scholar.