Para-educators meet needs of varied special-needs population


Gabriella Backus

Infographic by Gabriella Backus

Bailey Kirkeby, News Editor

When paraeducators were first introduced into classrooms in the 1950s, their sole purpose was to aid teachers by performing tasks such as setting up classroom materials and monitoring students. Today, paraeducators have evolved into a much larger role: providing assistance to students who require extra attention throughout the school day.

“We have several layers of support that can be provided for students who have special learning needs,” principal Hillary Harrell said. “We have one-on-one support, which is typically from paraeducators who are ‘assigned’ to support a particular student.”
According to Bear Creek Mild-Moderate special education teacher Ian Arlt, paraeducators’ tasks vary from helping students with visual processing or listening deficits take notes, giving on-task reminders to students with attention deficits and monitoring students with impulse issues.

Harrell said that Bear Creek has around 300 students on Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) that are tailored to each student’s personal needs. There are a number of ways a student can qualify for one-on-one shadowing throughout the day, such as assessment results, data provided by teachers and, most commonly, IEP requests from the student’s parents.

Although students on IEPs receive extra assistance, Harrell said that the Bear Creek administration works carefully to ensure that they are not giving students too much assistance.

“A lot of times, we try to start in the least restrictive environment,” Harrell said. “You want to make sure you don’t give kids too much help or too much assistance because that’s actually harmful.”

Bear Creek currently has 26 paraeducators — the most on a single campus in the Lodi Unified School District. According to Resource Specialist Program (RSP) special education teacher Janet Hughes, the school also has the most diverse classes for those with special needs with two severely handicapped classes, two intensive intervention classes, eight resource classes and three special day classes.
Although students on IEPs receive extra assistance, such as more time on tests and quizzes, the aid that they receive is important to grant them the same educational opportunities as other students.

“One thing that everyone needs to understand… is that equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful; equality is treating everyone the same,” Arlt said. “We are looking for equity, not necessarily equality. These students need these services to be able to be as successful as students in general education.”