Inclusion, Teaching, and Writing: University of Findlay Alumna Casts a Wide Net
The idea that things will “stick” with students through their college careers at University of Findlay, and, more importantly, after they’ve graduated, is one that is not taken lightly by UF’s faculty and staff. The hope, from coaches to professors, from housekeepers to librarians, is that whatever it is they are trying to help you with during college will rub off on you and make you a better, perhaps more well-rounded person. Fortunately, for both her and for UF, alumni like teacher and newly-published author Melinda (Bednarik) Arnost ’10 M ‘13 take all kinds of good attributes learned while on campus out into the world, building on them and making them even better.
Indicative of the many irons she had in the fire while at UF, Arnost graduated with an associate’s degree in personal training, a minor in writing, and a bachelor’s of science, and later got her master’s in education, post-BA intervention specialist K-12, mild to moderate. It is this vast experience, including her volunteer work and the patience and heart that stem from it, which makes her a perfect fit for her current position as an intervention specialist for K-3 students in an Ohio public school autism unit. Arnost spends her days teaching social-emotional lessons based on Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) standards weekly in all grades, covering the five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsive decision making. “Instead of pulling my students out of the general education classroom to teach certain social skills,” she explained, “I teach lessons to the whole class so everyone is getting the same information.” She covers lessons on feelings, triggers, impulse control, self-regulation strategies, social skills, kindness, compassion, empathy, diversity, inclusion, teamwork, self-advocating and even more. After doing an engaging lesson on kindness, she said, Arnost had students write kindness cards to send to a local nursing home. Students created joke books, word searches, color-by-numbers, mazes, and stories within the cards. “It was exciting to see the students’ kindness and compassion,” she added.
When she arrived on the UF campus as a freshman, Arnost’s heart and mind were already primed to receive all of the life-changing teachings and tidings that the University would afford her. During high school, she said, she was a volunteer at Camp Sue Osborn, a camp that is, according to its website, “dedicated to providing excellent, everyday camp experiences for Ohio’s individuals with special needs.” “It was then,” Arnost said, “I realized my love for helping others, inclusion, and teaching.” For someone with a heart like Arnost’s, it’s not uncommon for them to widen their views as much as possible, so that they can collect and hone all of the skills necessary to help as many people in as wide of a swath as they can. It’s just what they do. So, Arnost took advantage of all that UF and the surrounding Findlay community had to offer.
And it offered a lot. Arnost, taking in everything she could to gain the knowledge she knew she’d need in the working world, became a part of UF Writer’s Club; she wrote for UF newspaper The Pulse and its literary magazine, The Envoy; she hosted an Apples to Apples tournament, worked as a DJ on Findlay’s radio station, as a barista at George House Coffee Shop, and as a volunteer for the adaptive ice-skating program, Gliding Stars. She took on a position as a Graduate Assistant (GA) for several people, including UF professor of education and team leader for AYA, middle childhood, and multi-age licensure, Allison Baer, Ph. D, which led to an even bigger assortment of skills. “While I worked for Dr. Baer, I painted a lot of children’s book characters in the Teacher Resource Center (TRC),” she said. “[And] between my unique courses, jobs, intramural games, acting in plays, volunteer work and attending events with free t-shirts, my days were booked.” Through English classes, she ended up “becoming obsessed” with the writing process and pursued a minor in writing; her passion, she explained, being driven by UF’s amazing professors. She learned creativity; she learned style and documentation; and from the late UF English professor Marianna Hofer, she learned that it was okay to embrace her uniqueness and truly be herself.
Today, the work with inclusion that Arnost and the team of teachers surrounding her have been doing is such a success that they previously took it on the road, presenting at The National Milestones Autism Conference in Cleveland, leading to further positive reviews, and, impressively, to a book written by Arnost. “When we received positive feedback from that event, I wanted to spread our findings to a bigger platform. Over the summer, I spent a lot of my free time compiling all of my lessons, communication strategies and personal stories into the book,” she said. The book, for which she spent a lot of her free time compiling her lessons, communication strategies, and personal stories, is titled, “Empowering Inclusion, The Tool Teachers Need to Help All Students Succeed,” and serves as a guide for teachers to build relationships and push for an inclusive environment–exactly the sort of philosophies that UF teaches and hopes to have ingrained in its students.
It’s a good life for Arnost, who married her husband Nick in September of 2019, and who lives in the woods in Chagrin Falls, Ohio with the pair’s “stubborn cat,” Linus. With all of the current goings-on for her serving as clear evidence of the things she learned at UF having stuck, and, in fact, blossomed into something even bigger for her, Arnost is grateful. It’s the sort of thing that has come to be expected from UF grads. “My time at the University of Findlay was so much more than what I imagined it would be,” she said.