Brian Eagan’s, MCAS ’18, background seems to imply that his path was always headed in the direction of special education.
“I’ve been around people with disabilities pretty much as long as I can remember,” said Eagan, whose dad has been a special education teacher for the majority of Eagan’s life.
He also has two aunts who serve as classroom aids, his mom works in college admissions, and he was a dedicated participant in the Best Buddies program during his high school career. So did this mean he has always wanted to get his master’s degree in education?
“No, not at all,” he said.
Eagan had initially planned on attending medical school after his time at BC, and was attracted to the university for its proximity to one of the country’s busiest cities and medical meccas. As the first person in his family to attend BC, Eagan had the opportunity to construct a unique and highly personal narrative throughout his college years. Eagan entered as a biology major on a pre-med track, but his experiences within the Lynch School of Education led him to realize that after his time at BC, he was meant to go in a different direction.
Eagan got involved with Lynch unexpectedly. He wanted to learn more about child development, and serendipitously, Lynch provided the only means. He ended up loving his first class and decided to tack on Lynch’s Foundation in Education minor.
More deliberate, however, was his decision to volunteer for the Campus School, a position he was accepted to after joining the school’s mailing list in the hubbub of the 2014 activities fair. Located in Campion Hall, the Campus School prides itself in its adapted approach to educating students ages 3 to 21 with multiple disabilities including communication disorders, sensory limitations, and severe cognitive challenges.
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He entered the school’s literacy program his freshman year. Once a week, Eagan would select books and read aloud to a high school class with students aged 14 to 16. He proceeded with wavering confidence, often fretting that he was selecting the wrong books or that he simply wasn’t good enough for the job. At the end of the year, however, one of the students lit up with joyful recognition when Eagan walked in. That expressive display of positivity meant a lot to him.
“Being able to get past the initial [communication] challenge, figuring out the proper way to connect with the students, and using that to support their growth towards their goals is extremely rewarding,” he said.
The Campus School hosts numerous fundraisers throughout the year, ranging from broom hockey tournaments to relay runs around the Reservoir. To deepen his involvement sophomore year, he applied for a position on the Annual Campus School Golf Classic fundraising committee—the tournament is the school’s biggest event. By junior year, Eagan was co-heading his committee with his friend and fellow Campus School volunteer, Sarah Jackson, CSOM ’18.
“[Eagan] literally has every position in the school,” Jackson said. “He’s definitely the most committed committee member by far, and that’s why he’s leading it this year.”
At its weekly meetings throughout the year, the committee reaches out to various vendors, sponsors, and donors, recruits the players, and curates items for the silent auction and raffle—which offers everything under the sun from wine, to vacations, to Soul Cycle classes. Eagan has personally crafted dozens of emails urging contributors to support the school he passionately calls “the absolute best part of my BC experience.”
At Eagan’s first Campus School golf tournament, a parent speaker praised the school’s buddy program, speaking of her son’s treasured relationship with his classroom buddy, and how much it meant to the whole family. The buddy program assigns BC students buddies to hang out with on an individual level. A rising junior, Eagan had a lot of free time, and he knew that he would love to develop closer relationships with the students.
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“A lot of my friends were going abroad, and [the buddy program] would be a new, different type of friendship,” he said.
His work for the golf tournament also connected Eagan to Campus School Director Don Ricciato, who also happened to teach one of Eagan’s required courses, Working with Special Needs Students. On the last day of class, Eagan asked Ricciato if the Campus School happened to have any work study openings. Luckily, a spot was available.
He worked with high school students for one semester, then in the summer, he switched to the elementary class he’s been volunteering with since. Alongside an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, Eagan spent two days a week in the classroom. The dynamic was much more intimate than his previous volunteer work at the Campus School—being around the students for a full school day exposed him to the students’ interests, struggles, and histories.
Each Campus School classroom consists of about six students, two teaching assistants, and a lead teacher.
The majority of Eagan’s day is spent participating in various activities with the students. One of the kids loves listening to music. He watches music videos on his iPad and has a blast running his hands over the keyboard. Another student prefers sensory input—Eagan will put a plush toy on his tray for the student to feel, smell, and touch. A third classmate can roll her wheelchair herself, and Eagan will take her outside and she’ll roll down the hall, which is one of his favorite times of the day.
Eagan also began working as a personal care assistant, or PCA, for two students at the Campus School. As a PCA, he goes to the students’ houses and acts as their caretaker, whether they need help with feeding through a gastrostomy tube, getting dressed, or moving from one place to another.
The role of PCA is integral and far-reaching. As Robyn Dollar, mother of one of the students Eagan cares for, states, he not only acts as her son’s caretaker, but also his friend. This duel-role comes naturally to Eagan.
“Brian is just a very warm, conscientious person,” she said. “He has a special ability to relate to people. Everyone down from [my son’s] grandma to his little sister loves Brian.”
In addition to his helpful nature, Eagan points out his gender as among the facets that makes him so well-suited to working in the educational field. From therapists and teachers, to nurses and caretakers, women occupy many of the positions. Both inside the classroom and out, parents have appreciated Eagan as both a male and caretaker with a full understanding of how the kids need to be supported.
“[My son] has so many women in his life, so it’s nice for him to have a guy around,” Dollar said. “Brian talks to Jack like one of his guy friends.”
Eagan’s first day back at the Campus School for the summer coincided with a student’s birthday. When the student’s mother came to pick up her son, Eagan was helping the student into the car, when the mother asked, “When are you graduating with your master’s?”
Eagan had met her only two times prior.
“Actually, I’m a senior, and I don’t think I’m going to do my master’s here, I don’t know if this is what I want to do,” he replied. The mother’s disappointment was clear on her face: the world of special education needed more people like Eagan in it. “That’s when I began to think, maybe this is the right way,” he said.
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It was a long, hot summer. On one of the final days, Eagan and a student were swimming when the student had a massive seizure. Eagan had never witnessed one of this magnitude before.
Despite his inner paranoia and helplessness, his body sprang to action. He caught the seizure immediately, and was able to get the student back to school safely.
That was a big day. He was shaken from the events of earlier, and at this point his supposition had blossomed into the strongest conviction—Eagan was destined for a career in education.
“I’m big enough to admit that I went home and cried that night because I realized I was not doing the right thing,” Eagan said.
As soon as he arrived back on campus to begin his senior year, Eagan walked into the Lynch graduate office and met with an adviser. He figured out the courses and credits he would need to apply for his master’s, applied, and got his acceptance to the Lynch Graduate Program the day before finals ended. Eagan knows that Lynch is where he’s meant to be, and he’s excited to continue his work at the Campus School in the years to come.
“My involvement with the Campus School has been the absolute best part of my BC experience … I could not be more thankful for the experiences I have had, the relationships that I have developed, and the skills I have learned,” Eagan said.
Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff