A day in the life of a paraeducator: Woman wears many hats at Alden-Conger

Feb. 25—By Kim Gooden, For the Tribune

No two days are the same for Alden-Conger paraeducator Shanna Drescher, even though her schedule and goal vary little throughout the school year.

"When you work with kids your days are never the same," according to Drescher, who works as a Title I para with students in first through fifth grades. "The stories they share and their personalities influence how each day goes."

The skills being taught, what is going on in the classroom and each student's individual needs also affect how a day goes.

Drescher's day begins with supervision of the elementary students who get off the bus. She greets them and listens as they share both happy and sad events in their lives. Making this connection often helps build a working relationship with her students later.

"She has established relationships with kids so that they know she cares, and they respect her and listen to her directions," said Gretchen Hintz, first-grade teacher.

From there, she spends her morning working with Title I students on reading skills. They work on fluency, comprehension, letter names and sounds, phonics and many of the other skills needed to become good readers.

At noon she is a lunch supervisor for some of the elementary grades, assisting them with opening containers and heating lunches, and encouraging them to eat.

Drescher's afternoons are spent working with Title I students on math skills. Some students work on basic facts. Others work on taking apart word problems and using different strategies to solve them, or on skills such as multiplication and long division.

She also assists classroom teachers with Benchmark and Progress Monitoring assessments.

Drescher works with her students in small groups or one-on-one in the Title I classroom. There, they have access to a quiet space with fewer distractions and are able to accomplish more in the time they have. Still, sometimes the time she has with her students is not enough. She would like to work with certain groups or children longer to get them the help they need.

"There is no norm," Drescher said. "For example, all students in a first-grade classroom won't know their sight words. As a result, catering to each student where they're at becomes a challenge."

Getting students to understand that they will need the skills they're working on in the next grade, too, is also a challenge. And sometimes kids don't see why they need the skills in reading or math simply because it's hard for them.

Despite the frustrations, there are also rewards. Getting to work with kids first and foremost.

"It's also very rewarding to see their faces light up when they understand something or when they've been working so hard on a skill and they come down after a test and tell me they've been successful because of the skills we've been working on," she said.

Seeing them exit from the Title I program is also very satisfying for her.

Drescher has been in her position at Alden-Conger for nine years and is content to continue in that capacity.

She enjoys having the different grade levels to work with and finds that it makes the day go quickly. She considers herself fortunate to work with what she says are a great group of teachers who are supportive and appreciative of what the paras do every day.

The teachers she works with feel the same about her.

"Shanna is a positive and supportive person to have in the classroom. Not only for the students but also for myself," Hintz said.

"Her dedication and support to the students of Alden-Conger is phenomenal," added Shelly Sipple, fourth-grade teacher.