Brian Doolin is a valuable educator at Westchester Intermediate School. As head of the Special Education Department, Doolin spends his days helping children with special needs reach their potential.
“Our school is very welcoming to kids who are different,” Doolin noted. “I think that people are drawn to our community because we do things not found at other schools.”
Doolin explained that many factors make Westchester Intermediate’s special education program exceptional. It is a combination of supportive staff, hard work, and the freedom to explore new ideas that creates an ideal environment for students.
“The whole staff is great to work with. They have really accepted special education staff as equals; I know it’s not always the case in all schools. We are still seen as their co-workers and not just there to take care of problems,” Doolin said. “I’ve been lucky to have Tim McGinty and Shawn Longacre as Principals during my career. They’ve been very helpful.”
Doolin started his own education in Chesterton before moving to Westville. After graduating from high school, Doolin chased after his first dream: writing. He obtained a degree in journalism from Ball State University. But Doolin felt there was not enough creativity in his field, so he considered switching career paths. He thought of one of his high school teachers, Pat Bengert, who changed his life.
“Pat Bengert saw something in me before anyone else did. I was very quiet, and she recruited me to the speech team. It made me put myself out there.”
Doolin wanted to make that kind of an impact, too, so he returned to school to get his general education license. He began his teaching career in Charter Schools. It was there Doolin discovered his knack for unique children.
“I like quirky kids,” Doolin explained. “I like to be a support person and someone who is on the kids’ side. Especially the ones that others consider difficult.”
For Doolin, working with children with special needs is rewarding, but not always easy. Throughout Doolin’s career, he has worked with a variety of children. Their needs are unique, ranging from mild to requiring a lot of help. Doolin is gifted with the right personality for the job.
“I’m low key, it takes a lot get me rattled,” Doolin explained. “I can handle a lot of stress.”
Even though special education instructors are employed through Porter County and not the school corporation, there is unity between all teachers and staff at Westchester Intermediate School. Doolin’s next mission is to provide a bridge between the students so they can share in that unity.
“One night I saw the news highlighting The Nora Project,” Doolin said. “That same day I reached to project leader to see if we can do in Indiana.”
The Nora Project's goal is to ignite friendships between students with disabilities and their peers in general classes. This teaches empathy all while building support systems for all students.
“I had support right away from staff and our principal. I went with 6th grade teacher, Gena Roberts, to training in the summer, and we got started the first week of school,” Doolin explained. “I’m proud to be the first school in Indiana to do The Nora Project. I know that once it happens that other schools will want to do it.”
Five teachers and 83 students are involved in Westchester Intermediate's first annual Nora’s Project Program. Students learn about their “Nora Friends” through a variety of ways, including fun-filled play dates. They first learn how to set up the room for their new friends and discover their interests and personalities. The Nora Project supplies participants with everything that they will need.
“Our first visit is coming up in early December. The students are planning for that day, and are very excited,” Doolin said.
Throughout the process, students will make documentaries that will showcase their Nora friend and what their friendship has meant to them. The documentaries are debuted in May and styled like a red-carpet film festival with the Nora friends as the stars.
“I’ve already seen some wonderful things happening,” Doolin said.” Kids are seeing the benefits of being empathetic and kind. That’s amazing.”