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Harris Middle’s ‘Mr. Paul’ brings life skills to CDC

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at 8:00 am


Harris Middle’s CDC Assistants, from left, Tammy Holman, Jamie Leonard, and Erica Craig with Paul Alumbaugh. Not pictured is CDC Assistant Diane Jernigan.

Harris Middle’s Paul Alumbaugh describes the Comprehensive Development Classroom as “education at its purest form.”

And serving as a CDC teacher is one of the reasons why he feels he has a purpose-filled career.

“It’s great to have a job that gives you purpose and understanding that you’re here for a reason. I’m very fortunate that I can be here and know my purpose. That’s a very humbling experience,” said Alumbaugh.

Known as “Mr. Paul” to his students–all 19 of them this past school year–his objective is to make learning as fun and hands-on as possible all while prepping his students for high school and then eventually for the job world.

He does this by designing his classroom like a workshop: kids have a daily structured routine and get paid a small amount (5 cents a day) for completing a job each week in order to earn rewards. In the process, they learn how to hold responsibility as well as save their earnings.

Alumbaugh’s students even earned a field trip to the Tennessee Aquarium this year by selling hand-made, wood block Christmas trees to some of the faculty at the school.

“I am very proud of them,” he said.

“I enjoy my time with them; they’re kids. But I also want them to learn. I want them to pick up those skills early.”

In the CD classroom, you work with multiple subjects, including English, math, science, and history, in addition to current events, social and life skills.

“I have free reign to teach these kids anything and that is an exciting experience for me,” he said.

“I have learned to enjoy every one of my subjects, with the exception of math,” he added with a laugh. “But different aspects of math I do enjoy teaching and it specifically ties in with their life skills and that’s money.”

But, of course, structure can get disrupted in the classroom. That’s where patience and flexibility come in.

“Behaviors can be challenging but just remembering this is part of their disability and they need coaching and help and patience.

“There is no regular day. There are variations each day. But for the most part, when I come into the classroom, the kids are happy to be there. For a lot of these kids, that’s structure in their lives.”

Every one of the students learns differently. It requires working with them individually and meeting them where they’re at.

Not to mention, Alumbaugh said his four CDC assistants are also an integral part of the classroom.

“It’s a team effort. It’s not my class; it’s our class.”

Alumbaugh works with Diane Jernigan, Tammy Holman, Jamie Leonard, and Erica Craig, who all work in keeping the day flowing when he is out of the classroom.

On a regular day, the students all start with greeting each other before breakfast, then move on to sight words and then into reading lessons. They go to related arts and then focus on their other subjects in the afternoon.

“I’ve seen some of my kids, they go out, get jobs, and how it enriches them is unbelievable because it gives them purpose. And they take great pride in doing their job, and I’m proud of each of them.”

Paul Alumbaugh shows the handmade, wood block Christmas trees that he and his students made and sold this year. Funds were collected to send the CDC students on a field trip to the Tennessee Aquarium. The project also helped teach students how to measure and use tools, life skills Alumbaugh hopes they take into the job world.

Alumbaugh’s obvious dedication to his classroom and students is what earned him a Teacher of the Year Award for the 2023-24 year.

“For a CDC teacher, it’s truly an honor,” he said. “Considering there are so many teachers out there, to me their job is harder than mine. They have to work with testing and testing materials and they have a tough job.”

In fact, teaching in the special education classroom is not where Alumbaugh’s career began.

Alumbaugh is originally from Arkansas. He graduated from Arkansas State University in 1993, after majoring in Communications and Television Productions, and pursued a career in TV communications for 10 years. In that time, he went from working at a TV station to a production facility in Chicago to eventually owning his own business.

“The big city is a young man’s world, and I enjoyed every bit of it,” he said.

“The money was terrific, but it wasn’t for me. I felt it wasn’t fulfilling like it used to be.”

But when he found himself in Middle Tennessee, he felt the desire to go back into teaching. So he substituted for a while and ended up in a special education classroom.

“I knew immediately that’s where I wanted to be. Just fell in love with it from the start,” he said. “I think it was the positivity of the students. There’s an energy there that’s just hard to describe.”

After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in special education in 2011, he taught in Rutherford County at the high school level for 10 years.

Looking for a change, he ended up in Bedford County at Harris three years ago.

“The support we get from administration and faculty here is second to none,” Alumbaugh said. “And that’s really important, especially in the CDC classroom.”

Alumbaugh’s wife, Audra, has also been teaching in special education at Harris for a year. They have been married since June of 2022.

“She helps me focus more than anything. I have all these grand ideas and my mind runs 100 miles an hour, so she helps level me out,” he said. “She is definitely a strong source for me.”

When not teaching, Alumbaugh enjoys reading, attending shows, yard work, and tinkering on old motorcycles–all things he plans to do during the summer break.