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Administrator’s Corner: Thanks this week to paraprofessionals

Administrator’s Corner by Chris Dibble

As a community, it is often easy to see the work our teachers and administrators do on a daily basis. People can give a friendly wave to the bus drivers as they move students to and from school; with meal delivery, food service employees have become recognizable to many families picking up meals at schools; custodians keep our buildings sanitized and warm; and nurses, clerks, and secretaries keep an open line of communication with our families. 

Chris Dibble

One group, accounting for about 95 of the district’s 700 employees, is rarely seen in action by the public. For those who do get to know the employees in this group, their assistance is invaluable to the students they work with. It is one of the reasons that Gov. Tim Walz has proclaimed the week of Jan. 25-31, 2021, Paraprofessional Recognition Week.

Paraprofessionals most often work with students who receive special education services by working directly with students in the classroom. This support can range anywhere from one-on-one assistance to working with a group of students who are clustered in classrooms in order to make the most of the time that is given. Up until about one year ago, these were the most common places to find our hard-working paraprofessionals around the district.

In March, everything changed. Many groups of employees in the district were asked to expand roles as learning shifted online and students required support without the benefit of in-person instruction. Even as we returned for the 2020-21 school year, a variety of tasks that had never before been attempted became part of the everyday routine. The paraprofessionals in Albert Lea stepped up to perform extremely valuable functions throughout the district.

First and foremost, the paraprofessionals learned new technology and interpersonal skills to assist students in the online and hybrid formats. Paraprofessionals underwent intensive training to become comfortable with all of the software and hardware that our students needed to learn successfully. Google Meet became a part of everyday vocabulary and paraprofessionals quickly became fluent in meeting with and assisting students from afar.

As if this weren’t enough of a feat, our paraprofessionals took on additional roles that supported students in the district as the new normal of pandemic learning began. The majority of adults working with students in the district child care program are paraprofessionals. Each meal delivery that gets handed to students and families from buses are going through the hands of our paraprofessionals. In order to keep students on our buses safe, paraprofessionals are riding the routes with students to make sure they are properly distanced and keep masks on at all times.

On Thursday of Paraprofessional Week, Southwest Middle School’s usual potluck celebration for our paraprofessionals will be replaced by individually served cupcakes. Even the way we celebrate and recognize the staff has changed. We are all looking forward to returning to some normality as soon as we get through this pandemic. For now, we will take the time to thank our paraprofessionals for all they do in supporting our students and families with a cupcake and a smile. Thanks for all you do Albert Lea paraprofessionals.

Chris Dibble is the principal at Southwest Middle School.