Para Heroes

With schools closed down across Washington State, districts are struggling to put systems into place that ensure students continue to receive an education. Many have set up virtual learning opportunities where students can attend class through video conferencing. Others have put together homework packets to be picked up or delivered to students. As these distance learning programs are beginning to take shape, there is one group of students who are slowly falling behind, and in some cases, completely left out. These are our most vulnerable students. Many of them have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) in place or work one-on-one with a paraeducator throughout the school day. These students may have different needs and require extra attention, assistance, or resources in order to learn. Sadly, many of these students are being left out of the equation when it comes to virtual learning programs.

Many paraeducators work with high-needs students every day but are currently unable to provide them with the same level of support they would receive at school. But these paras have built strong bonds with their students and are willing to do whatever they can to find a way to connect and teach during this time of isolation. One of these para heroes is Jane Burton-Bell in the San Juan Islands School District. Jane is a special education para and works one-on-one with a young man named Zach (or Z for short).

“Z and I have worked together since kindergarten, and here, a few months away from graduation, all our painstakingly built schedules, routines, and strategies were tossed aside when coronavirus came to town. It has been remarkable to be part of this resilient young man’s journey (who, by the way, is non-verbal and has limited vision and little volitional movement) who, with the support of his even-keeled mother, has leapt to teleschool.”

San Juan Islands SD has put into place an online schooling program for its special needs students. Paras and teachers in the district have jumped right in and are learning as they go. Jane, among her fellow paras, care so much about these students and are willing to try anything to ensure they continue to receive the education and support they deserve. These paras are fully invested in the success of their students. Especially those who are nearing graduation.

“We are making it up as we go, building on our tech skills, working together for 3 – 4 hours a day, attending ZOOM gen-ed classes, speech therapy, OT (Occupational Therapy), keeping up with current affairs, and meeting friends on Google meets. All this in order to graduate and move onto his local community college. And as you can see, we still have time to laugh.”

We’re all learning together throughout this crisis. Hearing stories like Jane’s is just a testament to how incredibly valuable paraeducators are and the huge role they play in students’ lives and educations. Thank you to all the paras out there who are ‘making it up as they go’ during this unprecedented time, all in an effort to support the students they know and love.

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