Rockbridge County teacher creates scholarship for special education careers

The scholarship honors her son, who died last year of COVID-19

ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. – One Rockbridge County teacher created a scholarship for students who want to work in special education.

That teacher’s son had special needs and died last year from COVID-19.

“His name meant a gift from God, and he really was,” said Michelle, mother of Nathaniel Hughes.

Nathaniel, or Nator Gator as Michelle calls him, was the eldest of two children.

“He loved swimming, loved Christmas, and ugly Christmas sweaters were his thing,” Michelle said. “If you made him mad, he’ll grunt at you or he’ll slap you and then give you a little love.”

Nathaniel was unique in his way, diagnosed with autism and down syndrome.

He learned American Sign Language at the age of two and was able to recognize colors.

Michelle said Nathaniel built a strong rapport with his special education teachers at Rivermont.

“We’d like to say he was a sour patch kid because he could be sour and then he would be sweet,” Michelle said. “He knew how to capture the hearts of his teachers and therapists.”

Tragically, Nathaniel passed away last march after his battle with COVID.

“He worked really hard, tried but ultimately passed from a blood clot and pneumonia,” Michelle said.

Michelle and her family turned their grief into a passion.

A teacher herself, Michelle, says many who knew Nathaniel were inspired to work in the special education field.

Depaul’s Community Resources, an organization that helps people with special needs, approached Michelle’s family, encouraging her to sponsor a scholarship.

There will be two collegiate scholarships and one high school scholarship.

“That would include special education teachers, but for those also pursuing occupational or physical therapies,” Michelle said.

Bobby Hinkle was the Rivermont Principal when Nathaniel attended. Hinkle said having staff working with students who have special needs is vital.

“I think it’s a rewarding field to go into if your heart is in the right place and you want to make a difference and touch the lives of individuals, it is a great profession to get into,” Hinkle said.

If you or someone you know is interested, contact Michelle Hughes at Rockbridge County Schools. The deadline to apply is April 14.

About the Author:

Duke Carter returned to 10 News in January 2022.