Auburn special education grad student continues family legacy, gains national board certification

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Marnii Peel, a student in the Collaborative-Special Education Teacher Education Specialist program in Auburn University’s College of Education, will kick off the new year with a unique distinction: she passed her National Board Certification for Professional Teaching before she even completed her degree.

“Although Auburn’s Ed.S. program in special education is aligned with the National Board standards, Marnii didn’t wait to finish her program before she began her trek toward National Board Certification,” said Karen Rabren, the Mildred Chesire Fraley Distinguished Professor in Special Education, Rehabilitation and Counseling. “Her motivation for continuous growth and improvement is probably why she pursued her graduate program and her National Board Certification for Professional Teaching at the same time. These two challenging tasks demonstrate that Marnii is truly living the Auburn Creed of ‘work, hard work.’”

Becoming a National Board Certified Professional Educator is a rigorous process that includes passing a knowledge and pedagogical practices exam and developing a three-part portfolio that is examined by an expert review panel. National Board certified educators are recognized as experts in their field. In Peel’s case, she is recognized as an expert special educator across the entire country. This distinction provides her with opportunities for leadership and career advancement.

Peel, who was born in Paterson, New Jersey, then moved early on with her family to Opelika, where she grew up. Although she now lives in Phenix City, she works in Montgomery, where she is the special education facilitator at Goodwyn Middle School. She previously served in a similar capacity at Russell County High School.

“Growing up in Opelika, I always had a connection to Auburn,” Peel said. “My mother, Clara Mae Jones, was one of the earliest people of color to graduate from Auburn. She is half Black and half Filipino. She excelled in school and became an Elementary School teacher. She instilled in me the drive to do my best at whatever I put my hand to.

“She always said that hard work pays off and that you get out of it what you put into it. She inspired me to learn as much as I could and teach others because there is nothing better than helping someone else learn how to do for themselves. When you have done that, you have actually saved a life. So, my mother’s attending Auburn influenced my decision to study here. She’s had nothing but great things to say about Auburn University.”

Her mother wasn’t the only one who inspired Peel to achieve at a high level.

“My experience at Auburn has been and continues to be highly inspirational to me,” Peel said. “My graduate work here helped me to gain more confidence in myself. Much of that is because I have met the most wonderful and motivating professors. Karen Rabren is so encouraging and has told me from the time of my interview that I can do this. She continues to encourage me and has taught me strategies and information about Transition Services for our youth across the country. She is the one who really inspired me to reach for the gold bar.

“In addition to Dr. Rabren, I have worked closely with other professors in the college. Ellen Hahn in EFLT has really helped me with my writing and research skills, which is something I will always appreciate. Christine Drew, also in EFLT, made me feel good about my work and also helped with my writing. She is very inspirational and just real. Finally, Heidi Wright in Special Ed was very motivating. It has just been a great experience at Auburn. I have wonderful classmates. Coming to Auburn gave me the confidence and courage to continue and finish my National Boards journey.”

As she continues on her unique road, Peel wants to continue serving others as a recognized leader in her field.

“I love helping my students reach their potential,” Peel said. “I have met students who did not believe they could learn. I encouraged them and made sure they experienced some success, which gave them the confidence and drive to try. When they tried, they succeeded.

“These students need encouragement early on before they reach the high school level. So many students are going through so many things outside of school that affect their education. My heart just goes out to them, and all I want to do is find a way to reach all of my students.”

Peel’s story is one of many where the right person found the right place at Auburn. Her major professor believes the match strengthened the student, as well as the program.

“Marnii is an outstanding student, professional educator and an all-around wonderful person,” Rabren concluded. “She has the drive to always do her best and to engage in ongoing learning. We are so pleased that she chose Auburn to pursue her degree, and we celebrate her accomplishment of becoming a National Board Certified Professional Educator.”

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