Here's why school support staff matter
Ottumwa Courier - 9/20/2018
Sept. 20--OTTUMWA -- A local mom is so pleased with her autistic preschool daughter's associate that she blogged about it.
Love What Matters is an online forum that allows people to write their own stories "to celebrate the love, kindness and compassion they represent ..." the website says.
Many of the bloggers who post on Love What Matters tell sad stories of death, disappointment and depression.
Other stories, like the one written by Abby Murphy, praise people who have touched the writers' lives.
I absolutely love teachers. I. Love.Them.
If you want to meet the most selfless, hardworking people on the planet just step into a classroom.
Audrey, my tiny Autism warrior, has one of the best. (Audrey has autism, a language delay, and moderate to severe anxiety.) Not joking- we hit the jackpot. This is the second year we've been graced by her and I don't take it for granted for half a second.
But this blog isn't about teachers. It's about the paraprofessionals. The aides. The helpers. The holders. The snugglers and errand runners. The cheerleaders, the paper passers and pencil holders. This is for the backpack zippers. The copy runners, and laminators. The quiet encouragers.
Amanda Puscizna is the associate assigned to Audrey at Pickwick Early Childhood Center. She's been with Ottumwa Community School District about six years, she said.
Some associates are assigned to a classroom and assist all students. Others, like Puscizna, are assigned to a single student. Audrey needs guidance during the day, Puscizna said. "Just someone to be there for her."
"Amanda is Audrey's personal aide," Abby said. " [She] helps her with what's going on in class, helping her with scissors, going to the bathroom, socializing with other kids."
Though her language skills lag behind other students, "Audrey is extremely bright," her mother said. "She's gifted. She struggles with things like talking, it's hard for her, but at the same time, academically she's extremely successful."
As a 3-year-old, Audrey was assigned to Jill Gardner's class. When Audrey was assigned to a different class this fall, Gardner took Audrey's Individualized Education Program to Teri King, director of student supports, to have the placement reevaluated, Gardner said.
IEPs specify what additional services special education students need. In Audrey's case, "She has an adaptive behavior," Gardner said. "It does require a special education teacher."
Gardner is a special education teacher, so Audrey was moved to back to Gardner's classroom.
Gardner has few special education students in her class this year. "We try to have it so that less than 50 percent are on IEPs," Gardner said.
Keeping special needs children in the general population is important to their development, Gardner said. The play skills and language skills of the general population are good examples for the special needs students.
"They're good role models," Gardner said. "They're probably better teachers than we are."
Puscizna and Audrey are very close. "Right from the start she fell in love with Amanda. She has a very motherly touch," Gardner said. "Amanda's very good at stepping back ... and letting [Audrey] be independent."
"Amanda's kind of her go-to second mom," Abby said.
"The most phenomenal thing about Amanda? She loves my daughter," Abby wrote for Love What Matters. "She loves her on her good days and loves her even more on her bad ones. She loves her soft spots and jagged edges. She cares.
"Hug all the teachers," Abby wrote, "but please don't forget the helpers. They are, after all, called support staff for a reason.
Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.
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