Local heroes of Waushara County
By Hayley Sroka
Waushara County may be filled with small towns, but the citizens are filled with big hearts. Local heroes surround you every day, and perhaps you may not realize the integrity and compassion within members of the community. You might even be seen as a hero yourself.
Sarah Kniffen is the Wautoma High School Special Education teacher. The impact she has made on student’s lives has been recognized, even after graduation. She has been a part of Waushara County for nine years at the High School. She lived in Wild Rose for three years. After moving from Wild Rose to Waupaca for a few years, she decided to move to Wautoma this past year with her three dogs. She dreamed of moving to Madison, where her parents are located, but has fallen in love with the small town community where she can pursue her love of being active with various places to hike, kayak, and ski.
Kniffen has grown connected with her students at Wautoma. She found inspiration in the teaching field at a young age. Her little sister was in a Special Education group growing up, so Kniffen had experience since youth. She enjoys the challenges that may come with her group of kids, and would not replace it for the world.
Being an educator has many ups and downs. Kniffen finds joy working with her kids. Her favorite part of her career is getting to meet the kids at their transition age. Seeing them grow up and accomplish their various goals is why she chose the High School level. The students who stay in the program for many years grow a bond with their teacher. They are in Kniffen’s room all day, which allows a strong connection to form. Kniffen states that often the more challenging students are those that seem to grow a stronger connection with their teachers. The feeling is irreplaceable to Kniffen, and is why she loves her job.
Her favorite memories with her students come when they learn something that will last them their whole lives. Kniffen finds pride when her students achieve something everlasting, such as being able to order food or tie their shoes, all the way to landing their first job interviews. Though a student may not realize in the moment, Kniffen knows that they will take these experiences with them for the years to come.
Although, here are some challenges that come with the position, the biggest challenge this hero faces is the limited job opportunities for her kids. She wants to see students succeed, and is branching out to find more opportunities than what Wautoma can provide. Gratitude for businesses is shown throughout the department is given to those who give the kids a chance. Kniffen helps her students gain life experience, which is all you can ask for from your teachers.
The school closure has been really tough for many families of Waushara. The Special Education Department felt the impact immensely throughout the past few months. Kniffen is used to seeing her students for 6 ½ hours each day, and has really missed their time together. She continues to work with students who are able to work virtually with her. Earlier the day she had a video call with her students. The Department is continuing to communicate with families and students through video chat. Some are having a hard time with the technology, which Kniffen has been working to help them overcome. Kniffen looks on the bright side of things, as this experience has taught students to be able to use the skill of video chatting. This is something she believes is very useful for their futures overall, but is looking forward to her in classroom experience to resume.
While Kniffen inspires a younger generation, she has people who inspire her as well. An advisor at Whitewater College, in where she is an alumni, encouraged her to pursue the Special Education field. She worked closely with him and would look up to him for advice. Her mom was also one of her biggest inspirations. Seeing how well her mother had worked with her sister, and the positivity she radiated fueled Kniffen’s passion for her field of work. Her mom encouraged her to go into the field as well, and thankfully that brought Wautoma a wonderful teacher.
Kniffen, along with the other teachers of Wautoma High, look forward to seeing their students once again. Kniffen is used to their smiling faces brightening up her day. The love for her students is seen by their families. Sarah Kniffen is a local hero inWaushara County.