Editor’s note: In our article “Paras: The unsung heroes of public schools,” we look at the challenges of triumphs of public education paraprofessionals (often called “paras”) and outline the critical role they play in the lives of individual students and school communities. We also profiled eight paras to get their personal insights. Here we meet Rochelle Greenwell, a Kent paraeducator who pours her passion for progress into students.
It takes passion to fulfill a role not many people know about or even understand. Rochelle Greenwell is passionate about her position as a paraeducator in the Kent School District. As the President of the Kent Association of Paraeducators and a Learning Assistance Program (LAP) paraeducator in a Title One school, she knows how vital her role is to the classroom and to her students.
A paraeducator for 10 years, Greenwell’s passion is best illustrated in the triumphs of the students she serves. One large triumph involved a student who could write letters, but wrote them backwards. It took a year for Greenwell, working with the classroom teacher, to help that child turn them around. These collaborations, she says, are validation of the power of the paraeducator role.
The arms and legs of the district body
Each day, Greenwell provides one-on-one instruction to 42 students in four classrooms. She often develops specialized curricula to help students learn in the way that suits them best and provides accommodations to those who need them.
Although she has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Greenwell decided against becoming a certificated teacher because she felt a calling to support individual students.
“The certificated teachers may be the heart of any district but paraeducators are the arms that reach out to each student and the legs they stand on,” Greenwell says.
“No district body can operate without its arms and legs or hands and feet no matter how strong the heart beats,” she says. “We are also educators who work with other educators.”
Greenwell points out that the prefix, para, means “alongside of” or “beside” and so the title paraeducator describes this role perfectly. Paraeducators work alongside their students and alongside teachers, administration and parents to help students get the best education possible.
Greenwell says the most rewarding part of her work is when she is able to connect with a student to help them understand and grasp a concept. She says it is the glimmer in a student’s eye and their face lighting up that makes coming to work everyday worthwhile.
“This is where the creative process of getting them to learn and helping them understand they are capable of all things (makes it all worthwhile),” says Greenwell. “Getting them to see it in themselves is the fun part that makes it enjoyable coming to work.”
“I want them to see themselves in the job that I do,” Greenwell adds. “No matter the social economic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age of the student they are all capable of great things. I enjoy encouraging each one of them, even when they say they can’t do it.’
Support your school’s paras
Having parent support is also important and having them understand her role in their child’s education is crucial. Greenwell says parents can help support paraeducators by talking to their school district office about providing them a liveable wage, speaking up at school board meetings in support of the para role and acknowledging their impact on teachers and students.
“Speak to whomever you think would listen,” Greenwell says. ‘Paraeducators are a valuable part of your school.”
When she’s not advocating for students or paraeducators, Greenwell follows one other passion. She says she’s obsessed with cosplay and loves attending Cons (Comic Con, Sakura Con) with her daughter — sometimes in costumes she creates herself.
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