Paraprofessionals, also known as educational assistants, make up a large part of today's public school education support staff. Patch is recognizing the work of paraprofessionals at local schools this week for Paraprofessional Recognition Week. Such work includes many support programs like the after-school program at Wayzata Central Middle School.
"The success of our after-school program is due to the willingness of staff members – some of whom are paraprofessionals – to stay after school and help students who are in need of homework support," said Wayzata Central Middle School Principal Steve Root.
Paraprofessionals like Joan McNutt, enjoy dedicating their time to one-on-one help for students in the school's media center for the program.
Patch asked McNutt about the after-school program and how paraprofessionals contribute to its success:
1. Describe what the after-school program is all about and why it exists?
McNutt: "We have the after school program here at Central Middle School because we saw a need for it. Many students needed a place to do homework where there was someone who could explain things if they did not understand. Some students also needed a safe place to be until a responsible adult was at home. Our program combines the homework portion with an activity portion that is provided by the YMCA. Students work on homework from 3:20 to 4 p.m. in the media center and then go for an activity (outside in nice weather, or a game room, or to watch a school sports team play), which is supervised by a YMCA person as well as school staff."
2. When did the after school program begin and how do paraprofessionals play an important role in it?
McNutt: "The after school program in its current form began three years ago. Previous to that we had just the activity portion which was run by the YMCA person with help from staff. We felt that students needed both the academic portion and then time for play. Paras are important in this program because we are the ones who provide much of the academic support during the after school time. Our school currently divides students by grade level and provides one or two paras to assist with their homework. Since many of problems students encounter are in the area of math, at least one person is available for each grade to help with math problems."
3. How has this program helped students?
McNutt: "This program has been found to be helpful by providing a safe, supervised area where students have the resources needed - academic help, computers, a quiet place to work- so that they can succeed in school. We also try to make sure students keep current on their homework and encourage those who are missing assignments to get them finished and turned in to their teacher. We have found that students are more successful in class when they can keep current on the homework and get help when needed."
4. How many paras are involved in the program and how many students use it?
McNutt: "There are currently four para-educators who work with students after school, as well as two computer paras who are available for computer questions. We average about 50 students a day and we operate the program from Monday through Thursday each week."
5. Was there a model for the after-school program and how has it succeeded?
McNutt: "We really didn’t have a model for the program. It has evolved to meet the needs of students, parents and staff. We are constantly considering ways to see if we can make it better. We have targeted some students who we feel can greatly benefit from consistent after school help, and when those students choose to attend, they show improvement in their classes."