Jan Back – Always Giving Back
October 20, 2005
Some people say that seeing is believing, but what about those who can’t see? They need something to believe in just as much as those who can see ” maybe even more. That’s when it takes a special person to step in and make a difference. And in Truckee that special person is Jan Back, itinerant teacher of the visually impaired for Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District.
With a masters degree in education of exceptional children, a multiple subjects credential and two specialist credentials to teach severely handicapped and visually impaired students, Back runs the district vision program with assistant Claudia Bergman, and teaches students ages three to 22 with visual impairments and/or severe disabilities.
Back collaborates with each student’s team of teachers, support staff and family, to develop an Individualized Educational Plan to address their learning needs. Students are provided specialized assessments, instruction and adapted materials, such as large print and Braille books to help them be successful. Back and Bergman also provide in-services to classrooms and community groups to develop awareness of visual impairments.
“We have always envisioned a continuum of services for our students with special needs,” Back explains. “And I’ve been so thrilled to see programs evolve here.”
What she means is that Truckee didn’t always have a place for disabled students to further their education after high school until Truckee High School Special Education Department got together to base a Special Education Transition Program, run by Lisa Furr, at Sierra College.
“People say disabilities, but all of our students have so many abilities,” she says.
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Part of enhancing those abilities, Back advocates, is bringing the community together. To do this, during her years as a special day class teacher, she arranged programs like Tiger and Lion Buddies, which paired students with disabilities with students in general education classes.
“Those are the kids who come back after years away and tell me that helping out with our special education kids has changed their life and now they’re going into occupational therapy, or physical therapy or they want to be a teacher,” she says.
Tiger and Lion Buddies help disabled students by teaching them or being part of a friends group, Back explains, and the relationship is in fact a symbiosis.
“I feel very fortunate to have taught here in Truckee,” Back says. “There are so many warm memories in this community. It always comes together to help out. The community members are always coming out to help with my kids.”
Back moved to Truckee with her husband in 1976 and has seen the town grow through her eyes and through the experiences of her two daughters Allison, 25, and Lindsey, 23, who were very active in Truckee High School.
As a member of the Philanthropic Education Organization, which raises money for student and community scholarships, you may have seen her selling tickets for the popular Babes on the Bus trip or selling Tahoe-Truckee Throws at the Christmas Craft Faire.
But most likely, if you know Back, you’ve had a life-changing experience as a result.
“Her commitment has always been total,” says Jane Bridges, a Truckee resident and close friend of Back’s for 26 years. “There’s no one who has given more of herself. She is a supportive friend, nurturing and generous almost to a fault.”
Giving is Back’s greatest strength, according to her family and her friends, but until recently, Back wasn’t sure of how to give back to herself.
The 53-year-old Truckee local, wife, mother, teacher and helping hand decided she needed to take time for herself after a frightening facial paralysis and compromised immune system caused her to pay attention to her own health last year.
This summer, as a gift from her husband, Bill, she attended a wellness/ fitness retreat at Camp La Jolla in San Diego.
“He told me, you spend all of your time giving to other people, now it is time to do something for yourself,” she says.
Back says the experience has been life-changing, but in the time away from Truckee she’s missed her mountain community.
“Truckee is truly a special place to live,” she says. “I love this environment and the people in our community. So many have touched my life in such positive ways.
Over the past 29 years, I have learned so much from my students, their families and my colleagues. I am grateful for my supportive and loving family, friends and community members who have inspired me and helped me grow.”