Ashley Simmons is excited to return to Nisswa Elementary School as a special education teacher. It’s where she started her teaching career nine years ago, and this time someone special will be in a first-grade classroom - her son, Will.

Simmons’ passion for helping children has only increased since her first stint at Nisswa School and since becoming a mom.

Born and raised in the small town of Northwood, North Dakota, Simmons graduated from high school there in 2006 in a class of 30 students. She earned her undergraduate degree in early childhood special education from Minnesota State University-Moorhead and landed her first job at Nisswa Elementary School in 2012.

After five years in Nisswa, she moved to early childhood classrooms at the Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd and Baxter Elementary School.


"I think having strong social-emotional skills is a lifelong skill everybody needs to have, especially kids who struggle with it. I’m really passionate about helping them get to that point."

— Ashley Simmons, special education teacher at Nisswa School


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When she heard about an opening this year at Nisswa School for a special education teacher, Simmons applied. She’s been busy preparing her large classroom with a big window that was part of the school’s renovation project.

Simmons finds her job rewarding.

“I think having strong social-emotional skills is a lifelong skill everybody needs to have, especially kids who struggle with it,” she said. “I’m really passionate about helping them get to that point.”

Simmons knew since high school that she wanted to be a teacher, but didn’t know what she’d specialize in. She’s musical, so she thought about being a music teacher. Then while in college, she saw a flyer advertising a job at Easter Seals. She worked there as a personal care assistant and discovered her passion for helping kids.

“I ended up really liking it, especially when I got to work with children,” she said.

Last year, Simmons earned her master’s degree in emotional behavioral disorders and autism spectrum disorders from Bemidji State University.

She’s seen the difference it can make to work with a student, especially a young student, who starts a school year mad, aggressive and unable to interact with peers and eventually overcomes all that. Seeing students problem-solve on their own - like on the playground with classmates - after a few weeks of teaching is rewarding.

“It’s just amazing to see that,” she said.

Ashley Simmons sits in her classroom at Nisswa Elementary School with her first-grade son, Will, on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Ashley Simmons sits in her classroom at Nisswa Elementary School with her first-grade son, Will, on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Everything Simmons has learned comes in handy at home, too. Will was adopted through foster care when he was 14 months old, after being fostered from just 5 days old. He was exposed to harmful substances during gestation, which affected his development, and he has some attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Simmons, who will work with kindergartners through fourth-graders, may even have her son in a group social skills class this year.

Her future goals include continuing to work with kids and to help other adults and educators better understand children with disabilities. It would be nice if people passing a child having a temper tantrum in a store would not judge and would even offer to help, she said, citing the importance of teaching skills rather than punishing bad behavior.

Ashley Simmons created a website as a behavioral resource for people to check out at https://sites.google.com/isd181.org/developmentalbehavioraltoolkit/home.
Contributed Photo
Ashley Simmons created a website as a behavioral resource for people to check out at https://sites.google.com/isd181.org/developmentalbehavioraltoolkit/home. Contributed Photo

Understanding why kids have behavioral problems could make others more understanding and compassionate, she said, noting she’d like to coach parents who are struggling. She encouraged people with questions to email her at ashley.simmons@isd181.org and she’ll help coordinate support for them.

She also created a website as a behavioral resource for people to check out at https://sites.google.com/isd181.org/developmentalbehavioraltoolkit/home.

When she’s not keeping busy doing all she can to help children, Simmons enjoys kayaking and meeting friends at the lake. She also just took a motorcycle class and bought a motorcycle.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.