Featured Colleague: Rachel Schwitters Makes Inclusion and Connection a Priority

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

There are those who struggle to find which career suits them best, and then there is Rachel Schwitters, coordinator, disability support services.

“I took sign language and then when I ran out of classes to take in high school, they placed [me] in an American Sign Language (ASL) classroom with a regular teacher as a kind of assistant,” she said. “And I just fell in love with it.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders from the University of South Florida and later pursuing a master’s in exceptional student education from St. Leo University, Rachel worked as a special education teacher for Hillsborough County Public Schools for more than a decade. Prior to that, she worked as a speech and language therapist for Seminole County Public Schools.

Two years ago, she joined Valencia, where she oversees a team charged with assisting students with disabilities within the Osceola Region, which acts as an extra layer of support to special populations.

Her daily tasks consist of gathering disability paperwork, working with deans to ease interactions with faculty and conducting an initial intake to make sure appropriate accommodations are provided. Accommodations for students who register with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) run the gamut. Students may receive extra time on assessments, distraction-reduced rooms, adaptive equipment, interpreters and captionists, among others

Rachel also creates programming for the department. And just as important; she guides students herself on their journey through Valencia.

“We’ll go over classes. We discuss orientation, registration, financial aid. I always tell my students when they come in that they are very lucky because they have two advisors, their regular advisor and myself,” she said.

Rachel said she’s most proud of having had two of her students receive awards from the Black Advisory Committee.

“Both students were blind and have had many adverse circumstances in their lives, but both face challenges head-on and do not let the world get the best of them,” said Rachel. “They are positive, influential role models for all of us.”

She’s also proud of the work she has done with a group she created called the Catch-up Crew. Originally meant to provide social connection for students on the autism spectrum, the group now serves students with different kinds of disabilities, pairing them up with other student mentors who provide support and a different perspective in a safe space. The group used to meet face-to-face, but since the pandemic moved many of the College’s services online, they now meet on Zoom.

“Sometimes they’re in classes together; they’re encouraged to remind each other on assignments,” said Rachel, who added that students in the group are also provided with topics of discussion meant to encourage inclusion. “Our biggest thing is ‘You’re never alone when you’re part of the Catch-up Crew.”

Rachel said she is constantly inspired by her students while working at Valencia.

“I had one student who started Valencia in 1998 as a non-traditional student. She did not graduate until 2019, and I could not have been more proud. Talk about inspiration and determination,” she said.

Another one of her students just “knew” he could never pass developmental mathematics and asked Rachel to withdraw him from the course on three occasions. But Rachel pressed him to “hang on,” encouraging him to seek extra tutoring help and to connect with Mathematics Professor Al Groccia. In the end, the student passed the course.

“These students inspire me daily when they prove to others that beyond their disabilities they will show their true ability, character and determination to succeed. Through their adversity, you will see their strength,” said Rachel.

Rachel also likes working at Valencia because she gets to use her knowledge and skills in a new learning environment.

“I taught special education in K-12 public schools for 12 years. I am now so glad that I get to continue that work with a new group of students. It has provided me with amazing growth opportunities while still remaining in my area of expertise.”

Her supervisor, Deborah Larew, director, students with disabilities, described Rachel as a “true professional who cares deeply for her students. With a background in special education, she not only is an expert with disability services, but she understands the perspective of the teacher as well.”

Rachel also values Valencia’s place in the community.

“With the worst unemployment rate and worst college-going rate in the entire Central Florida area, the Osceola Campus was created out of hope. My passion has always been education as a key to success … Education has the power to change your life and your future if you embrace it. Valencia is a direct link to that education, power and hope this community needs and wants,” Rachel reflected.

In her free time, Rachel enjoys spending time with family, friends and her dogs. She also loves hosting people at her house, shopping at the outlet malls and enjoying our area’s theme parks.

More recently, she has added painting to her list of hobbies.

“I am working to embrace my creative side with some watercolor paintings and diamond art. I am still very much a work in progress.

Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.

6 Comments

  • Stanton Reed said:

    Rachel thank you for sharing a piece of your story with us. Your commitment and service to students is valued. You are a game changer. Thank you for your experience, skills, knowledge, compassion and enthusiasm. You inspire me to be better.

    PMTue, 18 Aug 2020 19:18:16 +0000Tue, 18 Aug 2020 19:18:16 +0000pm20,7:18 pm

  • Nicholle Trapp said:

    Congratulations to my friend who truly becomes an advocate, family member and champion to your students and staff members. I learned so much from you and I am so happy to see others have this opportunity to learn how amazing Osceola Campus already know you are!!!

    PMTue, 18 Aug 2020 21:24:02 +0000Tue, 18 Aug 2020 21:24:02 +0000pm20,9:24 pm

  • Mireya Willems said:

    You are inspiring!! Congratulations, you are an amazing human being. Thank you for being who you are.

    AMWed, 19 Aug 2020 08:03:27 +0000Wed, 19 Aug 2020 08:03:27 +0000am20,8:03 am

  • Kim foster said:

    Rachel, it is always such a pleasure to work with you. I so appreciate your desire to meet our students where they are and help find ways to propel them to toward their dreams. I am so happy to be a part of your team.

    AMWed, 19 Aug 2020 10:17:10 +0000Wed, 19 Aug 2020 10:17:10 +0000am20,10:17 am

  • Nichole Segarra said:

    Rachel, I appreciate all of your care for our students, and your partnership with administration and faculty to help them succeed 🙂

    AMThu, 20 Aug 2020 10:20:50 +0000Thu, 20 Aug 2020 10:20:50 +0000am20,10:20 am

  • Maritza Gaviria said:

    You are one of a kind and I am so blessed for our continued partnership. Congratulations on this very well deserve recognition. Our students are so lucky to have you!

    PMSat, 12 Sep 2020 16:40:10 +0000Sat, 12 Sep 2020 16:40:10 +0000pm20,4:40 pm

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