“It’s wonderful to have our para-educators back in the classroom. They do a fantastic job helping to teach our youngest learners.”
That’s what Jane Siegel, a kindergarten teacher at Wealthy Elementary, says about the role of para-educators in our schools. She’s not alone. Many teachers and parents consider the return of para-educators one of the most important programs donors to the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation provide.
It wasn’t long ago that the district was forced to eliminate para-educators from the classroom because of state funding cuts. But Foundation donors came to the rescue through EGRNOW! This year, EGRNOW! will fund over $255,000 in support of elementary world language and elementary para-educators.
For kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers, para-educators are a vital resource. “I had my largest class of first graders ever last year,” says Breton Downs teacher Melissa Sayre. “We had 26 kids. My para-educator, Mandy McIntyre, gave me the flexibility to work with small groups of kids. She also watched the kids at lunch and recess so we could see if there were kids having trouble making friends. Then we were able to use that information in our social groups in class.”
Craig Weigel, the new principal at the high school, saw how important para-educators are when he was the principal at Lakeside. “It’s so helpful to have another set of adult eyes in the classroom,” Weigel says, “and it allows our classroom teacher to do more specialized instruction. It really helps our most at-need students.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Breton Downs principal Caroline Cannon. “While our classroom teachers are providing one-on-one interventions or Leveled Literacy Intervention, the para-educators are supervising and leading the other students through activities,” she says. “We are fortunate that many of our classroom para-educators have teaching certificates. Some para-educators provide strategic interventions in math and in reading. We really appreciate all the support they have given us!”
That educational support, of course, wouldn’t be possible without the financial support of donors to the Foundation. “Our para-educators are invaluable,” says Lakeside first grade teacher Michelle Kirk. “All our teachers, students and families offer a heartfelt thank you to our community and the Foundation for continuing to invest in our youngest learners.”