Maddie Stinson graduated from the University of Arkansas in May and is now teaching fifth grade special education classes at Sky Ranch Elementary in Oklahoma City.
She left behind something amazing in Arkansas, though.
Miss Amazing is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for girls and women with disabilities to build their confidence and self-esteem. Maddie brought it with her when she became a student at the U of A.
She had volunteered for the non-profit while attending high school in Belleville, Illinois.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” she said. “I started traveling to different states to participate in their events, and when I decided I was coming to the U of A, I knew I wanted to bring Miss Amazing with me.”
So, at age 17, she became the Arkansas director and built the organization from the ground up. Under her leadership, Miss Amazing expanded to other Arkansas universities and the U of A chapter formed partnerships with organizations like Special Olympics, Easter Seals and local 99 Balloons.
She also involved her peers in the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A as well as college students in special education teaching programs across the state.
“We wanted to make sure we were providing resources and an opportunity for collaboration with teacher candidates statewide,” she said. “These were things as simple as a Facebook group where teacher candidates or novice teachers could share ideas and talk about difficult situations that they came across in their internships and practicum placements.”
Maddie has since placed the Arkansas chapter in good hands and still serves as an advisor. Now she’s on the board of the Oklahoma Miss Amazing chapter. When it can safely be held, she’ll help them run their Miss Amazing pageant, an event Maddie headed up in Arkansas for four years.
A teacher at heart from a young age, Maddie constantly invited family and friends to play school with her —worksheets and all —so she could grade their papers. Maddie’s two best childhood friends had siblings with autism spectrum disorder.
“I always loved them so much,” she said. “From this, my passion grew for the special needs community and I started volunteering with organizations like Miss Amazing.
“When I realized that I could combine these two passions — teaching and working with some of my favorite people — I knew that teaching Special Ed is what I was meant to do.”
During her last year at the U of A, when Maddie was interning in a real special education classroom, she felt validated.
“It showed me how much I am meant to be here to watch my students grow socially and academically,” she said. “I love being able to pour love into my students and see their confidence grow so they can reach their maximum potential.”