Hannah LeBlanc took field experience to a totally different level.
LeBlanc taught at Chief Paul Memorial School in Kipnuk, Alaska, while earning a Master of Science in Education in Special Education from the Northwest Missouri State University online program. She earned the degree in less than 12 months.
"I always planned on getting my master's degree, but I didn't think it would be as soon as it was," she said. "I saw the online program at Northwest and said, 'This is such a good offer that I can't turn it down.' I was already starting to look at coming back to the lower 48 states and needed to make myself more marketable."
LeBlanc returned home to the Show-Me State and completed her degree in June. She starts a new job as a second grade teacher at Orchard Drive Elementary School in Jackson, Missouri, this fall. Northwest's Coordinator of Special Education Programs Dr. Shantel Farnan introduced LeBlanc to a special education coordinator in the school district.
"My parents are both great educators, and I had a lot of great educators growing up," LeBlanc said. "I never wanted to be anything different. I like teaching a wide variety of students. I realize that even if my students aren't special education, they all need certain accommodations and can still benefit from it. That's why I went into special education."
Even before LeBlanc landed the new job, she saw tremendous benefits from the online M.S.Ed. in Special Education program in her Alaska classroom.
"I was collaborating with other special education teachers who had been in the field for five-plus years, so they had so much experience and expertise I gained from," she said. "It completely changed my relationship with my students and my whole class dynamic. It was amazing."
North to Alaska
After LeBlanc graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Culver-Stockton College in 2016, she intended to follow in her father's footsteps in an additional way by joining the Peace Corps.
"I went to a job fair, and the Peace Corps didn't show up," she said. "I was really bummed out about it. I kept making awkward eye contact with the lady at the Alaska school district booth. I thought, 'If I don't go over there, it's going to be rude.' So, I talked to her a little bit and said, 'This sounds really interesting.'"
Next thing LeBlanc knew, she packed up and moved to a tiny fishing village 3,300 miles away from home and just 4 miles from the Bering Sea. That made for some interesting obstacles most online students don't face, although she had lots of peace and quiet.
"There were times where an assignment was due at midnight in the lower 48 and I had to get it done earlier," she said. "I emailed my professors, who were really good about the situation. It was hard sometimes because we wouldn't have power for a couple of days. When I explained to them, they were more than understanding. I didn't ask for an extension. I just said, 'I'm sorry. I know it's not my best work.' They'd say, 'No, it's fine. Here, take this time.'"
LeBlanc was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and moved to the United States when she was 15 years old. Her parents are both American, but her dad was in the Peace Corps and her mom was teaching in Africa when the two met in Ethiopia.
"Alaska was amazing," she said. "Since I was born and raised overseas, I always thought I would want to go back overseas. I thought, 'I've never been to Alaska. This might be a great stepping stone.' When I got there, I said, 'You know what? I really want to be close to family.' I originally didn't think that, but it's definitely something that I want now."
Becoming a Bearcat
LeBlanc heard about the online M.S.Ed. in Special Education program at Northwest through her father after initially thinking a master's degree would have to wait.
"I had been looking at programs and found some that were triple the price, so I said, 'Maybe in a few years,'" she said. "My dad told me about Northwest's program and thought I might be interested. I said, 'This is perfect.' I knew I wanted my master's in special education, and I knew I didn't want to pay $38,000 for it."
Even though LeBlanc knew earning an online degree from Alaska would be tough, she was more than up to the challenge.
"I did online classes for some of my undergraduate degree," she said. "I was so overwhelmed in my first two classes. After that, it was more like, 'I'm already done with my homework?' I got into a routine of one assignment a night, all of the reading on Saturday, where it made it seem like it was so much easier than it was."
One of LeBlanc's favorite courses in the online M.S.Ed. in Special Education curriculum was Multicultural Education for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
"I really liked that course because I feel like I've grown up in so many different cultures that I'm adept at blending into the culture," she said. "It was also valuable to see how those cultures value family life. Seeing that in my classroom was fascinating to me as a teacher."
LeBlanc also thoroughly enjoyed her final course, Seminar: Selected Topics in Special Education.
"I was able to see everything I learned," she said. "When you're learning all of it, it's resonating with you and you're applying it in your classroom, but I was able to sit down and look at every assignment I completed in the master's program and see how I applied to teaching, where I plan to use it and how I needed to grow with it. I thought that was so beneficial for me."
The Next Chapter
Now that LeBlanc has graduate school and her career in order, she has one more life matter to attend to in 2018.
"I am planning on attending graduation at Northwest, but it depends on my school schedule and our breaks," she said. "My fiance and I are getting married."
Looking back on the accomplishment, LeBlanc is especially proud of earning a master's degree with education being such a high priority in her family.
"My parents expected it out of my brother and me," she said. "My friends are all working on a master's degree as well so it was like another thing that we had to do. I am excited."
Power outages and sizeable time differences notwithstanding, LeBlanc knows a master's degree was well worth the effort and encourages any special education teacher to enroll at Northwest online.
"You just need to go for it," she said. "It's going to be so beneficial, not only for you in your profession, but for your community relationships. I've become more professional in my practice and have more expertise and experience. I'm better qualified to teach my kids. That's what's important -- being the best for my students."
Learn more about Northwest's online MSEd. in Special Education program.
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