Thanks, Given: Penn Stater Chris Ulmer

November 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm 1 comment

In the past week, the world has caught wind of—and collectively teared up from—an uplifting viral video of a special education teacher down in Florida. Whether you saw it on the Today Show, ABC News, or on your Facebook feed, we were all grateful that Chris Ulmer shared a glimpse of his classroom with us. Specifically, how he starts class every day: by taking 10 minutes to praise each individual student.

Guess what? This incredible teacher is a Penn Stater. Ulmer ’10 graduated with a communications degree—specifically, media studies. In a phone interview this week, he told us that what he learned about social media in his four years at Penn State is being put to good use. “I understand these things come and go in waves,” he says. “Right now it’s a ‘high wave’ because of a viral video. I’m trying to capitalize on it, because the worst thing would be for it to disappear and nothing comes of it.”

See, Ulmer has a bigger goal in mind. In April, he started a blog called Special Books by Special Kids to promote acceptance—not just awareness—for kids with disabilities. (First, he had to get permission from the school, his students, plus their parents.) Instead of putting money into his savings account, he took $600 from his monthly paycheck and invested it into Facebook advertising. Every day, he taught school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then worked on the SBSK blog until 10 p.m. He created videos with the students. And, he mapped out a 5-year plan of how to parlay this blog into a book, which is ultimately a collection of these stories about—and by—his amazing students. (Any proceeds would be split 50/50 between the children and the mission.)

He set a goal for 70,000 followers in one year, but thanks to the video, it’s already reached 126,000 followers after 7 months. Just last week, he had over 7 million page views. Oh, and after previously turning him down earlier in the year, publishers are now calling.

SBSK has quickly turned into a global community for those whose lives are touched by those with special needs. “If you spend just one or two minutes a day watching these kids, it will open up your world to a life that is so different than ours. You will truly understand what it’s like to be a child with special needs,” he says. “They will articulate it. And if they can’t articulate it, they will show it with their actions. You will see it in their eyes.”

Although Ulmer won’t be returning home to Willow Grove, Pa., for Thanksgiving, he’ll be back in the Philadelphia area come December. Next week, a “national television network” (he can’t yet say which one) is going to his classroom to film a segment to air in December. As for managing all of the global attention, he tells us: “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to stay in the classroom, I’m going to educate these kids, and I’m going to blog about it.”

To get his daily classroom updates in your newsfeed, go ahead and like his Facebook page. For more information:

—Amy Downey, senior editor


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Melissa Herman  |  November 25, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Wonderful! With graduates like these, I’m proud to be a Penn Stater.

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