By Donna Thornton/News Editor
All honors are appreciated, but for Chip Rowan – the first recipient of the Gadsden Civitans’ Hometown Hero award – it was especially special.
Rowan, who teaches special education at Litchfield Middle School, told members of the Civitans club that when he was in high school, he was president of the Litchfield High School Junior Civitans, and became governor of the state Junior Civitans organization in north Alabama.
His goal in school at the time, he said, was to be president of every club and to go on and be a politician or gain fame some other way. But is his role in Junior Civitans, Rowan said he was responsible for arranging volunteer projects for members, and he had to show up, too.
“I had to volunteer in this little class,” Rowan said, of people then called mentally retarded. “I didn’t particularly care about people with mental retardation. I wanted to win awards for having the most volunteers.” But the experience gave him another goal.
“It totally changed my life,” Rowan said. “I was ready to go to college and I started telling people I was going to major in special education.” He said some told him he was wasting his potential.
Instead, Rowan chose a path that allows him to help his special needs students realize their potential.
Dr. Jim Prucnal said he and Civitans President Jack Floyd heard about a club presenting a Hometown Hero award at a conference, and Floyd was excited about the prospect of doing the same thing in Gadsden. Prucnal said a potential hero was suggested, but Floyd insisted the first one should be a teacher.
Deidra Holland of the Gadsden City Schools, spoke on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Ed Miller. She said Rowan started teaching with the school system in 2004. He works with special education students with intellectual disabilities, in a self-contained classroom.
“During the years he has worked with these students, he has displayed a drive and a passion to not only educate his students, but to change their lives,” she said.
In the classroom, Holland explained, Rowan incorporates academics with real life skills, with activities like “News to You,” Book Club, Garden Journal, and Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company.
Rowan’s students grow lettuce and tomatoes and through the catering company, make and sell salads and dressing, as well as making truffles, cookies, cheese crackers and other food items to fill catering orders.
“I want people to understand that people with severe disabilities can do upscale cooking, upscale work,” Rowan said. “I guess it’s to prove a point – that they can function at a very high level if you with them to get them there.”
Rowan said through the life skills activities in the classroom, students also learn academics. Student must read recipes, or instructions about gardening. They practice math skills in calculating the cost for the ingredients they need in their recipes and how much money they will charge for orders.
“I think it would be a good way to teach any kid,” Rowan said.
He said receiving this award from the Gadsden Civitans brings him full circle, because the it was activities in Junior Civitans that led him to teach special students.