Mary Dorry

2021 Amazing Educators - Columbia County Spotlight

School: Northwest Regional Education Service District
Why she is amazing: Dorry finds it rewarding to make a difference for children and their families.



Helping students with special challenges is a rewarding vocation for Mary Dorry, who works as an early childhood special education teacher in preschool at Northwest Regional Education Service District in St. Helens.

Dorry has worked with children from birth to 5 years old.

“Specifically, I’m more in the preschool range of 3 to 5 years of age,” Dorry said. “I’ve worked all of those, from birth to 5, but I have a more narrow focus.”

In part, the Northwest Regional ESD serves students who experience a variety of physical and/or developmental learning needs.

Dorry grew up in St. Helens, spent some time in Portland and decided to return to St. Helens. “When our oldest got to be school age, we decided we wanted to be in a smaller community, closer to family, so we moved back,” she said.

The desire to teach has always been with Dorry.

“I had a really favorite teacher in the third grade (Mrs. Wolf),” Dorry said. “She was a kind and creative teacher that made learning fun.” Dorry has a sister, Judy, who is now a retired school administrator and former special education teacher as well.

“My career as a teacher includes teaching Head Start, preschool, kindergarten and several years as a substitute teacher while raising my children,” said Dorry. “It’s very rewarding.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dorry would welcome about six groups of students two times a week for instruction.

“The focus for my group was early introduction to group instruction,” Dorry said. “So their first experience being in a classroom (was) following directions and attending to lessons.”

She said her focus when dealing with students is both language-based as well as play-based. “I really feel like kids learn through play,” she said. 

“They’re receptive to modeling, so if they’re playing cars, I’m going to play cars. We can talk about the color of the car and where it’s located. It’s very language-based in that way.”

Dorry teaches social skills to the kids, too, including sharing and taking turns.

“I spend a lot of focus on those social and emotional skills of being able to handle disappointment, turn taking, sharing and expressing your emotions appropriately,” Dorry said.

“We’re teaching them strategies before there’s a conflict, because when you’re in a conflict, you’re not listening. Pre-teaching those social and emotional skills are a big part of my day and my curriculum.” She also said that helping parents learn to connect with their children is another important piece to the process.

“My students are ages 3 to 5 and they have their own unique abilities that are, maybe, different from other students — we are very focused on parent coaching and supporting the families to give them the skills because they’re with them 22 hours of the day,” she said.

As with schools all over the world, the Northwest Regional ESD has had to cope with the COVID pandemic. “It’s all virtual,” she said. “It’s kind of progressing. Most of it, it’s maybe two steps forward and one step back.

The greatest challenges during the pandemic and school closure are learning and managing new technology, and not having the in-person connection with my students that builds a relationship.” Before the pandemic, Dorry said she wouldn’t support a lot of screen time for 3-year-olds, something that has changed since then in an effort to make things fun and interactive for students. “I’ve run my puppets, stories and music, and do it over Zoom,” she said. “Parents are there and helping.”

Helping students with challenges is, as always, rewarding work for Dorry. “It’s a blessing and very rewarding to make a difference for a child and their family,” she added.