For the 58-year-old Hollywood resident, the road was long but worth the journey.
“It’s the kids,” says Searcy-Ernsdorf. “Seeing them progress, seeing their confidence build, seeing them acquire literacy, and seeing them start to feel that they are a member of the learning community, that’s everything, that’s the goal right there.”
Searcy-Ernsdorf is part of Cal State LA’s Class of 2022, who graduated during the university’s 75th anniversary. She received a Master of Arts in Special Education with an option in mild/moderate disabilities and a certificate in autism spectrum disorders from the Charter College of Education. She works as a resource specialist teacher at Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet in Highland Park.
While Searcy-Ernsdorf didn’t initially pursue a career in education, she has always been in awe of teachers. “You know how people dream of being an Olympian? I always just thought, wow, a public school teacher, that is the ultimate,” she says.
After graduating from Hamilton High School on Los Angeles’ Westside, Searcy-Ernsdorf took courses at Santa Monica College and Los Angeles Trade Tech. She spent years casting for music videos and commercials, working receptionist temp jobs, and assisting on sets with costume design, makeup and hair. In the early 2000s, she opened a clothing boutique, Sling Ting, in Chinatown and launched Ernsdorf, her own clothing line.
But her interest in education remained in the back of her mind, and after a year of thinking about it, Searcy-Ernsdorf took action. She rode the bus from Koreatown to Santa Monica College and finished her lower division courses before transferring to UCLA, where she received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, before beginning credential work at Cal State LA.
“I was very clear about what I wanted, and nothing was going to get in the way,” Searcy-Ernsdorf says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it was worth it.”
Since 2015, Searcy-Ernsdorf has worked as a resource specialist teacher at Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet. In the role, she works closely with students with mild to moderate disabilities, such as dyslexia, learning and processing disabilities, and collaborates with school administrators and parents to develop individualized education programs, or IEPs, to support the children.
Searcy-Ernsdorf earned an education specialist credential in mild/moderate disabilities from Cal State LA in 2018, and throughout her graduate program, she balanced rigorous coursework and research with her demanding job in the classroom.
During her time at Cal State LA, Searcy-Ernsdorf worked on Project SCALE UP, a multistate federally funded research project that examined the effectiveness and feasibility of supplemental reading intervention for young English Language Learners as well as a doctoral research project that explored the working relationship of teachers and instructional assistants in special education.
For Searcy-Ernsdorf, the support from faculty members in the Division of Special Education and Counseling in the Charter College of Education was invaluable. “These are incredible, committed people,” she says. “I’ve never met a group of people like this.”
“Stacie has a true gift for teaching,” says Anna Ospiova, assistant professor in the Division of Special Education and Counseling. “She is an incredibly talented educator with the encyclopedic knowledge, kindest heart, and fierce courage to advocate for diverse children with disabilities. I know that her M.A. degree in special education will serve hundreds of children and their families.”
In the future, Searcy-Ernsdorf says she plans to continue her work in special education in Los Angeles, potentially exploring national board certification or positions supporting teachers instructing students with disabilities.
The work is hard, but rewarding, and Searcy-Ernsdorf doesn’t regret taking the leap.
“It’s not enough to be committed to it, you do have to love it, no matter how impossible it sometimes seems to be. The collective need is so great,” she says. “I can honestly say I am grateful and I am joyful every day.”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.