By Jessica Hornaday, communication major, '18
Every story is different. Every person begins the journey of life in a different way. Brandi Fox started her journey by studying science. Now she's halfway around the world working with students and teachers in China to help them understand the importance of special education.
The Indiana University graduate got her start in genetics and found her calling once she found out her sons were diagnosed with autism.
Brandi used all that she knew about development and genetic malfunctions to assist her own children, as well as others, with their special needs for learning development.
Fox is currently living in Shanghai, China with her family, working as a learning support coordinator for one of the largest private schools in the area. She says there is a great need in China for skilled professionals who can educate teachers and families about children with special needs.
“Historically, China doesn’t do much for students with special needs nor for those who aren’t the cream of the crop,” said Fox. “Either they don’t go to school or they go to a “life skills” school program.” Life skills programs can be a negative for students with special needs, because they aren't challenged academically. Often, instructors of children in these programs are just teaching them how to survive in the world. “They are not encouraged to believe they can achieve,” she says.
Through experience and research, Fox and her colleagues have found as a community, even some of the most intelligent students may have some degree of autism. No matter their challenge, students with special needs are capable of achieving great things, believes Fox.
Fox came to Marian University through the Indianapolis Teaching Fellows, where finished her Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 2009. She uses what she learned from her studies to help Chinese teachers better understand the skills their special needs students possess and how to adapt curriculum and programming to their needs.
In many ways, Fox finds China is behind the United States in its educational standards and not just in special education. The country is working toward understanding western teaching methods, adapting their schools and learning systems in ways that are similar those in the U.S.
According to Fox, China is making headway in their education programs in hopes that preparing students for the future will help bring the country out of poverty. Much like how the private school where Fox works, the country does not actively seek to educate everyone, though Chinese educators are working to change that. In many cases, those who live outside China (those of us who live in the rest of the world) only see the "cream of their crop" or the very top students the Chinese educational system produces.
When the morning bell rings, Fox says her daily work is to educate every child. After school, she works with local children from low-income families. While China offers free public education, it is not always accessible to everyone. Much like in the U.S., Fox finds there are financial and educational lines between the 'haves' and ‘have-nots.’
What drew Fox to China? She wanted to experience the Chinese educational system while helping them Chinese understand the cultural value special needs children offer their society. Her goal to help disadvantaged children in China access the same high-quality education as children from families with more income. The low-income children have a thirst for knowledge, just like their wealthier peers.
“They want to play, they want to talk, and they just want to hear the English language. They are enamored with American culture and want to know everything," Fox laughs.
Even though her experience is filled with memories, both of the children she's taught and what she's learned from them, Fox is excited to come home.
In the next five years, her goal is to operate an all-purpose community program with the goal of eradicating poverty through education.
Fox says Marian University has shaped her into the person she is today. She credits the Indianapolis Teaching Fellows program and its non-traditional approach with helping her continue her education. She recalls how her cohort peers lifted her up during challenging assignments and how Marian's faculty motivated them to have the confidence and tenacity to finish their degrees.
“I would recommend Marian to anyone. I could have been a statistic, but the faculty and my cohort encouraged me to finish. I would not have come as far as I have had it not been for Marian University,” she explained. “God put me in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.”
Fox will continue to practice Marian's Franciscan values in Shanghai until August, when she will return to Indianapolis. Her story is just beginning and she will inspire Marian University students and faculty for years to come.