Salute Our Heroes: Teacher finds his passion through special education

Ricky Prato, USD 501 special education teacher, with his owl helper he uses in class.
Ricky Prato, USD 501 special education teacher, with his owl helper he uses in class.(WIBW)
Updated: Apr. 18, 2022 at 7:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Ricky Prato has been a bank teller, landscaper, shoe salesman but wanted something he’s more passionate about.

He recalls being a teenager while his family lived in Japan being a big reason to become a teacher.

“At 16 years old, I worked at a youth center in japan on the military base and that was one of my favorite jobs and so I really wanted to get back and working with kids. I just feel like I relate to kids.”

He was a paraprofessional at Meadows Elementary in 2009 but wanted to be a licensed teacher.

He heard about USD 501′s Grow Our Own Program where TPS partners with colleges and universities in order for certified staff members to become licensed educators.

He was accepted for the program and attended Washburn University.

USD 501 Deputy Superintendent of Operations Larry Robbins said Prato was the last staff member to finish the program before it was put on hold due to less funding.

“I couldn’t do it without the program. Financially it helped out a lot with tuition and books and then the mentors I had were definitely really good mentors and they’ve been in special education for so long they pretty much knew -- they didn’t know everything, but they knew a lot of what I needed to know.”

Prato now is a kindergarten and 2nd grade teacher at Meadows. He’s proud of his work to get there..

“My first thought was just to become a teacher because I liked the idea of being able to teach kids but when I started to work as a special ed. Para, it started to click like oh, these kids really need that extra help and that extra guidance and extra support.”

Prato is still in school getting his masters degree in special education. He said he plans to stay with elementary aged students.

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