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Column: Giving thanks to paraprofessionals

By DEB STOLL, District 518

WORTHINGTON — Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed the week of Jan. 12 as Paraprofessionals Recognition Week. Therefore, this is a perfect time for teachers, administrators, students and parents in Worthington to express their appreciation and gratitude to the paraprofessionals who provide support and supervision of the students of District 518. We appreciate their commitment, expertise and energy in helping students make progress in their education.

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It truly does take a village to raise a child, and paraprofessionals are very much a part of the school’s environmental village. Paraprofessionals are employed throughout the district in a variety of positions. Their job titles include classroom paraprofessionals, instructional assistants, Title 1 Paraprofessionals, special education paraprofessionals, transportation drivers/riders, media center assistants, job coaches, and lunchroom and playground assistants.

Since their roles and responsibilities are so varied, the list is quite long as to how they support learning in our schools. Some paraprofessionals often act as an extra set of hands to the teachers they work with and the students they are assigned to. Other paraprofessionals assist with the learning process by providing accommodations for students with special needs, as well as paraprofessionals who work with individual students or small groups to reinforce learning material or skills previously taught by the teachers. Additional responsibilities include assisting students to complete directions given by the teacher, supporting enrichment and remedial work, keeping records, gathering data, transporting students, as well as assisting with supervising of the hallways, lunchrooms and playgrounds. The roles and responsibilities of paraprofessionals are quite varied, and yet they share some common characteristics.

The love of their job and profession is evident. They show kindness, compassion and commitment daily with their assistance to students and staff as they perform their tasks and duties. A common thread is displayed through their work ethic, energy and their expertise in assisting and helping students manage the day in schools. In addition, paraprofessionals work to increase independence skills as students begin the process of building confidence and becoming self-advocates. Paraprofessionals are also required to participate in training depending on which paraprofessional duty they are assigned to.

Worthington has a history of requiring excellence in their expectations of paraprofessionals, so within 90 days of being hired, Title 1 and special education paraprofessionals are required to study and test on characteristics of learners, professional and ethical practice, manage student behavior, communication and collaboration, instructional content and practice, and supporting the teaching /learning environment. Staff development opportunities are also provided during the year so paraprofessionals have the opportunity to gather tools and strategies to improve their skills as paraprofessionals. This is not an easy profession, but we are thankful we have such supports in our school district.

To all paraprofessionals of Worthington District 518, thank you for your commitment, knowledge and kindness as you support teachers and care for the students of Worthington. We appreciate your expertise and energy in helping students make progress in their education. Thank you for begin a valued member of Worthington’s village.

Deb Stoll is assistant director of special education for District 518.