Teachers & Leaders
IDEA Staff Spotlight: Mara Wenzel
As a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) at IDEA Headquarters, Mara Wenzel says she is motivated by changing the lives of children in the region she grew up in. When Mara started her career as a teacher, she knew right away that she wanted to make an impact and minimize obstacles that would prevent students from meeting their potential.
“I feel like that’s what IDEA is all about,” Mara said. “We encourage, motivate, and inspire families in our community to seek the best possible outcomes for themselves by getting an education and giving back to the next generation that is coming along.”
Read on to learn more about Mara’s role and how she supports IDEA students and their families.
Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in McAllen, Texas and have spent all of my life here. It's a great feeling to know that I am giving back to my community, especially because I have been given so many amazing opportunities right here in the Rio Grande Valley!
Where did you go to school (college)?
A: I attended The University of Texas Pan American where I obtained a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Communications. I continued to work on my master’s degree in School Psychology while teaching elementary school age children both at a traditional public school, and with IDEA Public Schools.
What made you want to be an LSSP?
A: Once I became a teacher I knew that I wanted to further help students that struggled either behaviorally or academically. I wanted to be able to make an impact in their lives and minimize obstacles that would prevent them from reaching their potential. Being an LSSP has given me the opportunity to help students, teachers and families see first-hand how when we work as a team great things can happen for our students.
What does your typical day look like?
A: Every day in my role looks different, which is really exciting! Some days I might be working directly with students completing a variety of different assessments or providing school-based counseling. Other days I meet with teachers to provide consultation services, or to help them create individual education plans for children receiving services.
I work very closely with families on a daily basis. For example, interviewing parents to gather more information on cases I am working on or answering questions regarding services that are offered. I also spend time working with school teams to hold Annual, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings for our students who are receiving services in Special Education to ensure that we are providing the best possible services for our students.
How did your professional journey lead you to IDEA?
A: I began teaching and soon heard about IDEA through other teachers. The story about how IDEA had come to be was really inspiring and I wanted to be a part of the change. I knew if I was going to make a difference in my community I was going to have to join the IDEA Team & Family!
What experience do you feel someone needs to be strong / successful in a role like yours?
A: To be a successful LSSP with IDEA you need to be open-minded, passionate about helping kids, and willing to think outside the box. We are constantly thinking of new ways to help students to make sure we are providing the best individualized plans for them. This takes a person who is creative, innovative and willing to ask the hard questions to get it right.
What is your proudest moment as an IDEA Team & Family member?
A: My proudest moment as an IDEA Team & Family member was being nominated by my peers as teacher of the year for IDEA Academy Edinburg, and then being selected as the District teacher of the year. It was really awesome to be recognized by the teachers I worked alongside with in such a grand way.
What would you say to someone who is interested in studying to be in a field like yours? What makes it special?
A: I would say to keep at it! Being an LSSP is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. I feel a sense of pride when I can help school teams solve really difficult cases, and provide them support to make our school the best system around. The best part is seeing children that I have created plans for successful and happy!
Is there anyone who has been a rock in your professional journey?
A: My mom, who was a middle school principal, has helped me every step of the way. She has always had an IDEA mindset and has talked to me about the importance of a college education for as long as I can remember. My mom encouraged me to continue working on my master’s degree and to follow my dreams even when they seemed out of reach. Now that I am a mom myself I hope to be able to inspire and lead my son, Austin, to do the same. I feel like that’s what IDEA is all about. We encourage, motivate and inspire families in our community to seek the best possible outcomes for themselves by getting an education and giving back to the next generation that is coming along.