Andrew Belliveau ’18 seeks to empower students with moderate disabilities through holistic education.
A Sense of Normalcy
When Andrew Belliveau ’18 was a child, he was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a condition that prevents the stomach from properly digesting food. Constant hunger and severe nausea are just two of the symptoms that he learned to manage over the years. When Andrew was in middle school, his disability made something as ordinary as going to class very, very complicated.
“It was debilitating,” said the Lynn, MA, native. “I could only attend school for an hour each day, at most.”
Andrew attending Opening Convocation in September 2018.
Andrew’s condition forced him to make impossible decisions every day, like whether he should skip a science lab in order to take a test in a different class. He was constantly playing catch-up, doing whatever it took to complete his assignments and pass his classes.
Despite these challenges, Andrew refused to let his disability define who he is. Instead, he uses it as a touchstone for educating others. To raise awareness of the disease he created the Pie Face Challenge, a viral marketing effort similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Andrew demonstrating the messier side of the Pie Face Challenge for Western Mass News.
At Elms, Andrew chose to major in education so he can make a positive impact on children with long-term medical conditions. Instead of teaching in a school, he hopes to work at a children’s hospital one day, serving as both instructor and mentor.
“I want to be an advocate for children who are like me, and in general for anyone who may suffer from long-term conditions,” he said. “I never had anyone like that when I was sick. I just had to hope for the best. Now, there’s a need for roles like that.”
Studying moderate disabilities at Elms opened Andrew’s eyes to various educational strategies. In his Assessment of Students with Special Needs class, he and his peers discussed how iPads and text-to-speech technology can help students overcome language disorders.
“Your diagnosis may not be the greatest, but you need to continue on with life,” Andrew said. “Don’t give up that normalcy.”
“A Magical Experience” at Elms
Andrew chose to specialize in moderate disabilities education because it differs from conventional education in important ways. One of the factors that sets special needs classrooms apart is the element of improvisation.
“You have to be well-versed in the array of disabilities that are out there, because you just don’t know what you’re going to see on a daily basis,” he said.
Learning how to develop individual education programs (IEPs) for students helped Andrew feel prepared for his teaching practicum, he said. The support he has received from faculty at Elms and teaching mentors at Bowe Elementary School also stand out in his mind.
“Just being in the classrooms, you see a lot of people going the extra mile for students,” he said. “My advisor told me multiple times that she’s postponing her retirement just to see me graduate. You don’t get that everywhere — it’s a magical experience.”
In spring 2019, Andrew will complete his teaching practicum, before earning his teaching license and entering the workforce. He’s looking forward to implementing his unique take on moderate disabilities education.
“Teaching isn’t so much about educating the mind as it is the whole person,” he said. “My goal is to not only educate my students, but to be their role model and inspire them.”