The day begins at Erving Elementary School, and Principal Jim Trill’s team of educators are ready. As students leave their cars and buses, they run for the school entrance, where adults greet each entering student with a smile, calling them by name as students move through the long hallway to different learning areas, hang up coats, set backpacks down, greet their classmates and prepare to begin their learning day. “Our greatest assets are our staff.” says Trill. “I’ve always felt that if we could support our staff and provide them with the toolbox they need for their trade, then that will gain the best results and our outcomes will be there for us.”
CES Curriculum and Instructional Specialist in Special Education Sharon Jones has been working for over two years on coaching and training with a specific group within the strong team that Trill has built at Erving Elementary – the paraeducators. Trill explains, “I saw a desire on the part of the paraeducators to grow beyond where they were. Our professional staff also strongly advocated for this work. They value the paras as professionals, and this has created trust – a major component of the work that gives rise to a stronger, more cohesive community. Our teachers felt that the stronger our para base, the smoother the work would be. I knew Sharon Jones had a fabulous reputation, and I had heard of her work in other districts, and reached out.”
Trill asked Jones to come and work with the paraeducators in Erving Elementary School. For the first year, Jones developed six afternoon training sessions on such topics as behavior support, differentiation, and gradual release. Participants felt that their skill sets were improving and were pleased with the process, so Trill and Jones set up a second year, scaffolding on the first year’s training with some more in-depth focus on particular topics. “This is quiet work,” said Jones, “It doesn’t get big press. But it is the quiet work that is happening in some of these schools that is the most profound and impactful for kids.”
Cassandra Putnam was in her first year as a paraeducator at Erving Elementary School when the program began. Today, she works with a dozen students each week, ranging from PreK through 6th grade. She was excited after the first meeting with Jones in September of 2016 – “Sharon wanted to know what was important to each of us. I wanted to be able to offer better support to the students and to the teachers. Support for 6th grade looks so different than support for 1st grade!” Putnam, who will soon complete her Bachelor’s in Behavioral Education at the University of Massachusetts, was especially interested in the differentiation work with Jones, and appreciated the additional focus on this in the second year.
“After this training, I see a real future for myself in special education,” says Putnam. “I’ve been able to learn so much, and I love working with the students and teachers. We are a tight knit team and my hope is to stay here and grow. I have the ability now to really progress in my work with students.”
Plans are in place for a third year of paraeducator professional development at Erving Elementary School, with each paraeducator completing an independent learning project based on their particular interest. When complete, they will share their work with the Erving Elementary School educator team.