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Unsung heroes

Area schools salute paraprofessionals this week

January 19, 2011
Story by Jenny Kirk

It takes a lot of people working together to provide a solid education for children, which is one of the reasons that a number of area schools are showing their appreciation for paraprofessionals this week, when Minnesota typically celebrates Paraprofessional Recognition Week.

The role of paras in educational systems vary, but all of their duties tend to gravitate towards improving the educational needs of students. This year, there has been some confusion about the timeframe for the event, most likely because of the late appointment of Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

"It may well have fell through the cracks (at the state level)," said La Oeltjenbruns, superintendent's assistant for Marshall Public Schools. "There seems to be uncertainty on when it supposed to be celebrated. But we have over 150 support staff and we're prepared to honor them. We do include our paras in November for Education Week and also for National Teacher Week in May as well."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall Middle School paraprofessional Cheryl McChesney, center, assists eighth-grader Hassan Osman, left, and sixth-grader Kevin Berg at the end of the day Tuesday, during the week when many area schools are celebrating Minnesota Paraprofessional Recognition Week.

Cheryl McChesney is a paraprofessional at Marshall Middle School who appreciates the gesture every year.

"Last year, the PTA brought in subs and the teachers brought in treats," McChesney said. "It's really nice to feel appreciated."

Hassan Osman, an eighth-grader at MMS, gets some vocabulary assistance from McChesney at the end of each day. Osman is an ESL (English as a Second Language) learner who just needs help tweaking a few of his words McChesney said.

"She helps me," Osman said. "She's a good helper and a good teacher."

MMS special education teacher Alison Krysel said that she sees the benefits of students having 1-on-1 attention.

"The paras mostly work directly with students to deal with what tasks they're on," Krysel said. "They do a lot of great things."

At Tracy Area Public Schools, Superintendent David Marlette said that paras are some of the most dedicated and caring individuals at TAPS.

"They're in the trenches with the kids every day working with them," Marlette said. "We're very thankful to have them. They work very hard and contribute to the learning of the kids."

District-wide, TAPS employs 25 paras, who take on a multitude of duties.

"We have many different types of paras, like regular district ones who are in the kindergarten room or special education paras," Marlette said. "We also have paras that work with ESL students. They do a lot of jobs."

Everyone benefits from paras who are willing to step up in the name of education, Marlette said.

"They take care of recess duties and help with our after-school program or detention," he said. "They're just willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever we ask. That's why we like to thank them every year. We have some rolls and coffee to help celebrate the week. We try to make it special for them."

Murray County Central also salutes its paraprofessional staff this week, with appreciation for the important role they play in the lives of students, teachers and programs.

"They really are crucial to the educational system," said Summer Pankonen, MCC superintendent. "In my opinion, they play a key role in ensuring that all students - and the key word there is all - are successful. They find individual strengths and weaknesses in students and give just enough support to find success."

Sometimes there is a stigma that paras do too much of the work for students, but Pankonen knows differently.

"The para are the ones who get to know the kids well," she said. "They take the time and work their tails off. They communicate and have to know what the teacher is expecting. Any teacher that has a good para knows how invaluable they are to a classroom setting. Paras are a link between the teacher and the student."

Like other schools, Pankonen was forced to make budget cuts, which meant downsizing on paraprofessionals.

"I made cuts to my paras," Pankonen said. "It was really difficult because I know how important they are to the district."

MCC currently has 15 paras at the high school and 11 at the elementary level. Pankonen said that the majority of them are funded by special education and that many students need someone right next to them, keeping them on track.

"A lot of times, paras are the 'behind the scenes' workers," Pankonen said. "You can't be selfish and be in that profession. Outsiders don't always know how much work they do. But if their student 'gets it' that's all the thanks they need. They find small victories each day. They're unsung heroes."



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