Schools celebrate paraprofessionals

Milaca Public Schools paraprofessionals gathered last week for a meeting.
Milaca Public Schools paraprofessionals gathered last week for a meeting.

In observance of National Paraprofessional Week, Milaca Public School faculty and staff are celebrating the work these educators do with students.

“They are really jacks of all trades,” said High School Principal Damian Patnode. “We would not be able to individualize instruction for students without paras.  Paras work with students in a variety of settings including the mainstream classroom, resource room, small groups and individually.”

For nearly 30 years, Brenda Rueckert has worked closely with local students and teachers as a paraprofessional.

“I love the staff, and the students,” Rueckert said of her job. “And I’m able to use the variety of talents that I have — knowing that I make a difference.”

Milaca Elementary School Principal Steve Voshell said paraprofessionals serve students in Title I, special education, preschool, media, and planning room programs.

“The paras work closely with some of our most at-risk learners,” Voshell said. “They provide educational, social and functional supports. In many ways, our paraprofessionals have the most student contact time during the school day. We are fortunate to have a group of hard working, dedicated individuals serving the staff, students, and families of Milaca School District.”

Rueckert said the profession has changed during the years since she began in a kindergarten classroom in 1984. When she first started, paras would be paired with a student or two with special needs. Now, schools focus on paraprofessionals’ strengths and may assign them to a specific course or an entire classroom of students.

Another change has been the considerable uptick in the number of students classified as special education. With the rise in autism and improved diagnosis of other cognitive conditions, combined with low-income students often times being placed in supplemental education classes under Title I — the umbrella under which paraprofessionals operate has significantly expanded.

Peggy Timmer, a paraprofessional at Milaca for 35 years, said the number of special education teachers they report to has increased with the additional students placed in their care. When she first started in 1978, Timmer and a handful of the other teachers’ assistants reported to one special education teacher to discuss a students Individualized Education Program. Today, the dozens of paraprofessionals report to nine special education teachers in Milaca schools.

“The job has changed tremendously as to what we’re expected to do,” Timmer said.
Susan Rogers, a special education teacher for grades 9-12, works closely with paraprofessionals at the high school.

“The paraprofessionals play a critical part in schools with regard to special education students,” Rogers said.

Teaching five classes a day while managing the cases for her students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and emotional and behavioral disabilities, Rogers said that doesn’t leave a lot of time for one-on-one attention.

“The paraprofessionals do their best to fill in the gaps,” she said. “Since they are in the general education classrooms with our students, they are my eyes and ears in the classrooms and help keep me informed, as well as assisting students with any type of help they may need.”

Those needs may range from making sure students turn in their work on time to “re-teaching” a complex math equation.

“The paraprofessionals become mini experts in all the classes they attend in order to help students complete their homework, and are very dedicated in their efforts,” Rogers said. “We special education teachers, general education teachers and the students all depend on the paraprofessionals to help students be successful in school. This job would be much harder without their help.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, Jan. 17 print edition of the Times.