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story.lead_photo.caption Moreau Heights Elementary School Teacher Cindy Connelly, right, receives a hug Monday from Morgan Werdehausen upon receiving a gift of $10,000 from the Jefferson City Public Schools Foundation. The gift is restricted to the Moreau Heights Special Education Classroom but is unrestricted in how Connelly uses it to benefit her students. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

A special-education teacher at Moreau Heights Elementary School received a surprise Monday afternoon — a check worth $10,000 or 25 years worth of the current annual budget for her classroom.

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Cindy Connelly does have some access to more than $400 each year for her self-contained special-education classroom; Connelly said there's still the Jefferson City Public Schools district special education budget, which includes separate funds that can help cover needs such as equipment for physical therapy and speech and language development.

However, $10,000 will still go a long way.

"It gives them a chance to communicate," Connelly said of what the gift means for her and her students, as she received a ceremonial-sized version of the check from the Jefferson City Public Schools Foundation — tears still on her cheek.

She said she currently works with six students. None of them speak verbally, three are in wheelchairs, one is blind and some use feeding tubes.

Connelly said her students are learning to communicate through different means — such as through electronic tablets or pictures, and one student has special sensors in her cheeks to facilitate communication.

She pointed to a power box that connects toys to switches that students can press — the box costs $300 by itself, she said.

"We have a lot of sensory needs," she added, and working with students with those needs requires items such as ankle weights, special snacks with texture and equipment that uses light or sound.

There are costs for curriculum, too, Connelly said.

The JCPS Foundation received the $10,000 gift for Connelly's classroom from an anonymous donor, and it's only the first of a three-part gift, JCPS Foundation Executive Director Karen Enloe said. The other two gifts will be presented with more details about their value, in the "months or year to come."

The gift for Connelly's classroom is restricted to her room — Moreau Heights has two other such classrooms for the functional special-education program that serves students from across the district and from non-public schools at Moreau Heights — but she can use it however she sees fit to benefit her students.

JCPS' Director of Special Services Bridget Frank said there are approximately 1,100 JCPS and other students in the school district's special-education programs — including in another program at Moreau Heights, and another program at Lawson Elementary School that typically works with students with autism.

Frank said there are typically 25 students in the functional-level special-education program at Moreau Heights of which Connelly's classroom is a part.

Connelly said she's worked with 15-16 students over the course of her career — she's in her fourth year at Moreau Heights, and she previously worked as a paraprofessional for five years in the district's early childhood program when it was at Lawson. She has worked with some students for multiple years.

"Thank you," was what she said to whoever the anonymous donor is — not just from her, but from her students, too.

To her knowledge, Frank said, the $10,000 gift to Connelly's classroom is the only donation of its size that's ever been given to special education in the district.

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