As summer ends and the school year begins, we often think about teachers and students heading back to school. While teachers prepare lessons and students learn new concepts we can’t forget the service employees who provide support that enable the schools to run efficiently.
Instructional support in schools can play a key role in student success. Paraeducators –– support staff responsible for assisting in the delivery of instruction — help provide such support by assisting with classroom management, organizing instructional materials, helping in libraries and media centers, and translating, to name a few of their responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, paraeducators reinforce the efforts of teachers in the classroom, and help increase student outcomes.
This is why, as President of the California School Employees Association, I want to take the time to tell the story of one school employee in the Golden State who really shines.
Paraeducator Michele Delao, a 2011 California School Employees Association Member of the Year, uses her knowledge and warmth to help special education students learn. For the past eight years as special education paraeducator at Bear River School in Wheatland, California, she has brought light-heartedness and laughter to the serious mission of showing special education students that they can thrive.
The staff of Bear River School laud Delao’s ability to help students focus and grasp instruction.
“She has a very striking sense of humor that comforts the kids and takes the pressure off,” explains Angela Gouker, principal of Bear River School. “Most of these kids know they’re a little bit behind or struggling in some areas. She makes learning fun so that they forget that pressure.”
Delao says it’s satisfying to see the students’ progress. With her help, the students can attend mainstream middle school classes even as they’re working to master the basics.
With budget cuts and fewer staff dedicated to special education, the paraeducators at Bear River School have taken on a larger load of students with a broader range of learning disabilities. Despite the challenge, Delao tailors her approach to fit each student.
“They’re having great difficulties and there are great variations in each person,” she says. “But because there are only three of us, our groups are really not as targeted as we would like. I have to find a middle ground and at the same time try to meet individual students where they are.”
Understanding the needs and challenges of working with diverse learners, including special education students, Delao comes to work each day fired by the energy, compassion and will to give the students she mentors a boost toward academic success. And, she does it all with a smile.
“She really cares about what she does – she cares about people – and that sense of humor comes through,” Gouker said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Michael Bilbrey is president of the California School Employees Association.