Paraprofessionals at Creston Community High School give support to special education students so they are able to succeed in general education class rooms.
This year two of CCHS’s paras have unique perspectives on the difficulties those students will face. Although Kilee (Kralik) Nelson and Tanner Webb’s disabilities are physical rather than educational, they understand the challenges of navigating high school along side their “typical” peers.
Nelson graduated from CCHS in 2009 and spent the last five years teaching first through third grade at Grace Christian Academy in Winterset. She said she enjoyed teaching there, but when it closed earlier this year, she decided to take a break from the stress and commitments of teaching full time. Although she graduated from Faith Baptist Bible College with a degree in Elementary Education and Bible in 2014, she decided to work with high school students during this break.
Jayne Livingston, Nelson’s aunt, was a para educator for CCSD. Unfortunately, health problems forced her to give it up three years ago. When Livingston died in January, her husband and children said being a para had been her true calling. Nelson decided to follow in her footsteps.
“When I was looking for a little more laid back option in the school, I instantly thought of my Aunt Jayne and her love and passion for the job,” Nelson said. “So this year I am doing my work, my passion, in memory of her.”
Nelson will be serving as a para educator and associate at CCHS this year working in the general education classrooms with one to two students at a time and in the math and life skills classroom assisting Jennifer Gay.
In the general ed classrooms, Nelson will help students with their note taking, assist them with assignments and help keep them focused on their work. She will be team teaching with Gay in the skills classroom, reinforcing skills they are learning and helping with their assignments.
“Teaching has always been a passion,” Nelson said. “It’s important to find your why.”
She has had students in the past who needed more help, and she enjoys connecting with students one on one.
Nelson said her reward is the heartfelt appreciation when the students understand.
Nelson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, said one of the challenges she will face is navigating the hallways between classes while carrying her supplies. The students aren’t allowed to carry backpacks to class, so she is not planning to carry one either.
Nelson said that although she was not a special ed student in high school, one of the special ed teachers, Michele Thatcher, assisted her with the physical accommodations she needed. Now Nelson will get to work alongside Thatcher.
“It feels like I’m going home,” Nelson said.
Webb was the CCHS football manager in high school and received his coaching certificate after graduating in 2015. He has worked with the team ever since. This year, he will also support students in the classroom as a paraprofessional, helping them with assignments and note taking. He will be working with special education teachers Thatcher, Brian Morrison and Tasha Haley. Nelson and Webb will occasionally be working together but with different students.
He says he is looking forward to building relationships with the students and helping them with their struggles. Webb said an important part of helping students is to understand where they need help and where they don’t.
“I’m a relationship oriented person,” Webb said. “I think that, if you can learn about people and learn what their interests and what their goals are, academically what they’re good at and what they struggle with, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
Webb recently graduated from Buena Vista University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services. Being a para educator goes well with Webb’s eventual goal of completing a master’s degree and becoming a school counselor.
“I thought, well, I want to do something that will help people and influence kids and still be in the school system so it just kind of fit together with what I wanted to do,” Webb said.
On the football field, Webb said his biggest contribution is his ability to see from different perspectives and watch how things develop. He said this is especially valuable when it is time to “break down film” — watch recordings of games to understand what the team needs to work on or how an opposing team operates.
In the classroom, Webb feels his ability to build relationships will be an asset.
“I’ve always been able to work with people and reach common goals,” Webb said.
The logistics of helping students from a motorized wheelchair is a challenge that he has already tackled head on. Webb, who like Nelson has cerebral palsy, prepared by speaking to each teacher he will be working with to make sure he will be able to find a spot to sit in their classrooms and then be able to physically reach students when they need his help. Webb said he wants to make sure that his presence in the classroom is not disruptive.
“I want to be able to get to students when they need support, but at the same time giving them freedom to not be breathing down their neck,” Webb said.
Webb uses an iPad and a Chromebook for his own daily writing because, as he said, his handwriting “looks like ancient Greek.” He will be able to use this technology to assist students with the academic part of students’ education.
He feels there are more advantages than disadvantages to his situation.
“I was that kid in school that needed help with extra things,” Webb said. “With these students, it is more comprehension. I think my experiences and what I’ve been through, through my college experience and just life experience in education, will help me be able to work with students and build relationships.”