Samantha Barlow, YSTEP teacher at YES Prep Brays Oaks Secondary
Stepping into Samantha “Sam” Barlow’s class, the warmth and love held between students and teacher is palpable—Barlow is the YSTEP teacher at YES Prep Brays Oaks Secondary and has been in the teaching profession for seven years, five of which have been in service of the Brays Oaks Cavaliers. She currently serves as the lead teacher in the YSTEP classroom at Brays Oaks as well as served as the coach for high school boys' volleyball and middle school boys' basketball.
YES Prep’s Special Education manager, Emily King, shared what makes Barlow an exceptional educator. “Barlow takes the time to learn about each student including their academic needs as well as personal interests. Her classroom is always engaging. Barlow is not only a YSTEP teacher but a coach, a mentor to many and a friend to all.”
A word about YSTEP
For those unfamiliar with YSTEP, the YES Student Transition and Enrichment Program (or YSTEP) classrooms serve our students with a broad range of intellectual and behavioral needs, like an intellectual disability or autism, who need to spend most of the day in a Special Education setting. Our YSTEP classrooms are critical to our mission of empowering students to pursue lives of opportunity.
Barlow creates a loving, safe environment that is required for the type of growth her students can and will make this year. She gently and continuously holds and praises high expectations for all her students. It’s through these moments, hundreds of times a day, that she builds an inclusive and safe community in her classroom, where students can show up and be their authentic selves and be loved for it.
Interview with Sam Barlow
To commemorate Special Education Day on December 2, we invited Sam Barlow to share about her experience teaching YSTEP.
Tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a small town in south Texas called Harlingen. I came to Houston because I needed a change. I attended the University of Wayland Baptist and got certified in special education.
How did you first learn about YES Prep and why did you choose to work here?
I heard about YES Prep from one of the advisers at the college I was attending. looked YES Prep up online and really liked what YES stands for. YES Prep makes sure that everyone is included and gives all students what they need. After working for a big school where the special education teachers were not really a big part of the school system, I wanted to go to a school where I felt I was making a difference in students’ lives.
Why do you teach and what’s the best and most difficult part of teaching?
I teach to make sure my students have a voice in school. The best part of teaching is seeing how excited my students get. The most difficult would be not knowing what kind of day we will have.
Why did you enter the Special Education field?
I want to be a voice for them. I want to make sure that these children get to experience the same things that every other student gets to experience. I love seeing the excitement on their faces when they understand and start to put things together. It brings me so much joy when I come into my classroom to see all my students in the morning knowing that they feel safe and happy to come to school. I just love all the different personalities that my kids have and how each day is a different day.
I want to make sure that these children get to experience the same things that every other student gets to experience.
A safe and inclusive environment is imperative for our YSTEP students. How do you know you have built this classroom community?
By making sure everyone in the classroom has a voice and is heard. The classroom community is important because I want students to feel safe and wanted and have the feeling of belonging. When I see my students happy and saying hi to each other, I know I’ve been successful. While it is important to make sure all my students are in class, I focus more on making sure they are heard and for them to know we listen to what they want.
If you were to complete the sentence, what would you say? “At YES Prep, students deserve a safe and inclusive classroom because…”
…We have students for 8 hours and 180 days, so everyone needs to feel like they belong. Also, it's important to know that we are shaping them for the future.
What advice would you give a family with a child in Special Education on how they can best support them at school?
I would tell families that we have an open line of communication and that we will help with things they can do at home that works here at school.
At YES Prep, we recognize the need to build inclusive communities both inside and outside of our classrooms. Our students deserve a space where they are physically and intellectually safe, and where they can show up as their authentic selves. YES Prep intends to be a welcoming, nurturing and loving space for all our students and its teachers like Sam Barlow that make this mission possible.
To learn more about YES Prep’s Special Education program, click here.
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About the author
Rachel Kargol has been with YES Prep since July 2012 and currently serves as director of teacher development and evaluation. She has also served as a biology, chemistry, PALs and 7th-grade science teacher, dean of instruction and manager of teacher initiatives systems. In addition to her work at YES Prep, Kargol has also worked as a program designer for New York City Health and Hospitals. Kargol graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Science in Education.