Woodward-Granger is a school district full of exceptional opportunities, especially some amazing opportunities for students with disabilities. Grandwood is a special education school in the Woodward-Granger School District that serves students with mental and behavioral disabilities.

Cindy Staebell is one of the incredible educators working in that building to help better the lives of these students. Staebell grew up Granger and always knew that she wanted to teach at the elementary level; so that is what she pursued in college, receiving her BA in Elementary Education from Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa. After that, Staebell’s life took off into a whirlwind: a wedding and a move from Des Moines to Cedar Falls for her husband’s job. That’s where the Staebells raised their two sons and where Cindy discovered her passion for teaching special education while substitute-teaching.

"There is a great segregated school for mentally disabled children in Waterloo called River Hills," Staebell explains. "It has 24 classrooms, serving mentally and behaviorally disabled students from age three to 21. I was a substitute teacher there for eight years. "That’s where I fell in love with special needs students. It was a great opportunity to learn about the unique qualities and abilities of this population."

When her husband was transferred back to the Des Moines area in 1999, Staebell – and her family– ended up right back in Granger, where she grew up. When she started substituting for the Woodward-Granger School District, Staebell found herself at Grandwood Education Center.

"It was just what I was looking for!" Staebell exclaimed. "After subbing for one year, I became a full time teacher. I needed to go back to get my Master’s Degree, which I did through Drake University. "For 14 years I’ve been teaching boys ages 15 through 21 who are all mentally and behaviorally challenged."

And she couldn’t be happier. Although she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, Staebell had always thought that the elementary level was the perfect fit for her.

"Now I know," she said. "I didn’t find special education; it found me!"

Even though teaching special education can be difficult at times, Staebell said the rewards outweigh the difficulties.

"Many times, students come to my classroom with very low self-esteem," she said. "They have been ‘integrated’ in a general education school. They were made fun of and sometimes bullied. Academically, they did not have the ability to keep up, so they acted out. "When they have the security and schedule of my classroom, they are able to succeed. I get to experience that transformation every day. That’s my favorite part of the job."

Staebell plans on teaching at Grandwood until she retires and gushes that her students and fellow staff are "exceptional." "When students say to you ‘I love coming to school here,’ it’s hard to give up the feeling that gives you," she said.