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Paras are a Powerhouse of Support for Students

Challenger Paras

As a paraprofessional at Challenger Elementary School, Marilou Dacey is constantly moving. She can most often be found monitoring recesses, managing safety patrol and dedicating three hours of her workday to supporting kindergarten classes, among other responsibilities that help keep Challenger in working order. And while the role of a paraprofessional can seem straightforward and simple from afar, their presence is undeniably important to the success of our schools. 

“People think [schools] are a daycare, but it’s social emotional building, relationship building,” and providing an overall support system, Dacey says. 

Marilou Dacey

Pictured above: Challenger Elementary School Paraprofessional Marilou Dacey

She enjoys watching kids grow into themselves and shares that helping students develop has become more important in recent years following remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Elementary students missed several years of in-person learning when they started attending elementary school. As a result, Dacey says teaching social and emotional skills, and how to interact with other students are some of her priorities when she comes to work each day. 

“They each have to find their place again,” says Dacey, who has served at Challenger for more than eight years. She started out by volunteering at the school when her son and daughter attended there, then transitioned into a substitute role before accepting a job as a full-time paraprofessional. 

Paraprofessionals are a critical piece of each building team, not only at the elementary level, but in our middle and high schools, too. 

Keith Hennig, principal at Skyline High School, acknowledged the vital role that paraprofessionals play in student success. "Their work in providing individualized support and resources creates a positive and welcoming classroom environment,” Hennig says. “The support that they provide ultimately helps students find academic and social success."

SHS Paras

Pictured left to right: Josh Martinez, Kari Culbert, Marjorie Linda-James, Jen Tenczar, Karen Ishimaru, and Penny Deshmukh

From counselors to teachers, and paras to principals, Dacey mentions that a collective effort is needed in order to support students throughout their development. That old adage rings true, she says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

The same sentiment can be felt at other schools across the district. Issaquah Middle School, for example, follows the motto “Be kind and take care of one another,” which aims to promote the idea of looking out for your peers who may need extra support. School Psychologist Meg Iyer says the paraprofessionals at IMS exemplify their school’s motto, and that a teamwork approach is needed each day when working alongside students. 

“Our paraprofessionals are always willing to jump in and cover for each other when needed, and always put students first,” Iyer says. 

“A great paraprofessional is passionate about helping students succeed, enjoys working as part of a dynamic team, has strong communication skills and is a good problem-solver,” she says “They wear many hats to support students." 

For some paras, one of those hats includes being an actual parent to those students.  

Shanna Collins is a parent who works as a substitute para at Cascade Ridge Elementary, where two of her children, Grant and Ellie, currently attend.  

When asked about her experience as a para who has worked in the same school as her children, Collins responds “I think working as a paraprofessional and being in the school building and playground helped my son make a smooth transition to kindergarten. But I try to keep my distance from them while I am working, so that they don't feel like I am spying on them.” 

Ellie, Collins’ daughter, doesn’t say much about her mom’s “spying,” but does share that having her mom work at her school makes her happy. 

“I am proud that she is here... it makes me proud to see that she is a paraprofessional” says Ellie.  

The feeling is mutual, Collins says. She enjoys the routine of seeing her children learning at school.  

One predictable part of being a para is the simple fact that nearly every day comes with fresh challenges and opportunities. 

“I've learned how to react calmly to a wide range of unexpected situations and behaviors,” says Collins. Despite this, she says she enjoys the energy and excitement of working around children in the school environment. 

While Collins says she likes the work, she also emphasizes that there is a need for full-time and substitute paras and lists why someone should consider working as a paraprofessional. “Working as a paraprofessional is a great way to make friends, contribute to the community and work on the same schedule as your kids,” she says.  

Paras across the district take on a variety of tasks and responsibilities each day – to ensure students are receiving the support they need. 

Dacey makes the point that the ever-changing day-to-day tasks are inspired by the different experiences that students carry. 

“We don’t know every kid's backstory, but [we want to make them feel like] they’re not alone,” she says, adding that she feels it’s important to help guide students and be a person students can turn to for support. 

Cascade Ridge Principal Jennifer Sehlin reiterated the positive impact that paraprofessionals can have on students, saying “Overall, paras are critical to the function of our schools, and I am so thankful for all the paras at Cascade Ridge.” 

“Oftentimes, paras are the first faces that a student sees each day. They set the tone with a positive greeting or connection of some sort,” says Sehlin. 

Paras are incredibly impactful, Challenger Principal Jennifer Kessler says, stating simply that her school would not run as effectively without them.

Challenger Paras

“I think we need more paraprofessionals in our schools so that our students can have the highest level of support possible. They tend to our students’ academics, safety and social emotional needs. They also assist classroom teachers, parents and the school as a whole,” says Kessler. 

“If someone is considering becoming a paraprofessional, I would tell them not to hesitate,” she says. “It’s a rewarding job, and they will quickly see the impact they make in a child’s life.” 

At the time of this publication, 390 paraprofessionals work in the Issaquah School District, with the longest-standing employee serving since 1992. Interested in working as a paraprofessional? For current listings, visit our job openings page