Jennifer Cottrell, an autism spectrum disorder teacher at Canopy Children’s Solutions’ CARES School Hattiesburg, recently received a classroom grant from the Mississippi Professional Educators (MPE).

Cottrell’s funded project is entitled, “Tortoise in the Classroom.” This project introduces a pet tortoise into the classroom, thus encouraging responsibility, compassion and leadership skills among students. The grant also funded hands-on art and interactive materials for the students.

“My goal of the project is to provide the students with a thematic learning experience in which students learn about the responsibility of caring for a new pet through shared reading, science, and art experiences,” said Cottrell. “Children on the autism spectrum are often more hands-on learners and this is an exciting way to engage students and teach new skills.”

CARES School Teacher Jennifer Cottrell pictured with the class tortoise, “Kevin.”

“Jennifer is one of those special teachers that always goes above and beyond to meet the needs of her students,”  said CARES School Hattiesburg principal Robin Davis. “She is also very dedicated to looking ‘outside the box’ in order to provide fun learning experiences in her classroom.”

Cottrell has been teaching since 2001. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Southern Mississippi and earned her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction in Autism Spectrum Disorder from Arizona State University. Currently, Cottrell is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi working on her degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Severe Disabilities. She is a resident of Lumberton, and has been a member of MPE since 2008.

 ABOUT MISSISSIPPI PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS: Founded in 1979, MPE is a statewide professional association with approximately 13,500 teachers, administrators and non-certified staff from kindergarten to graduate school level. Our top priority is the education and achievement of students. MPE awards up to $40,000 in classroom grants to MPE members who wish to enhance instructional offerings or educational experiences for their students. For more information on MPE’s classroom grant program and other benefits, please visit

ABOUT CARES SCHOOL: Canopy Children’s Solutions has CARES Schools in Hattiesburg and Jackson that serve children in grades 1-12 throughout Central Mississippi and the Pine Belt/South Central  districts to support children whose behavioral, emotional or developmental needs exceed the capabilities of their local school. The schools employ licensed and certified teachers and therapists who specialize in working with children who have severe emotional disturbance rulings or autism rulings from their local school districts.

ABOUT CANOPY CHILDREN’S SOLUTIONS: Canopy Children’s Solutions is Mississippi’s largest and most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions. Founded in 1912, Canopy offers a full array of integrated, community-based services in all 82 counties as well as intensive campus-based and educational programming.  For more information, please contact 800-388-6247 or visit us on the web at