If you ask Charles what he loves about attending first grade at Cedar Trails Elementary, he’ll tell you “karaoke, recess, Mrs. Nuth and Ms. Dee.”
Dee Camp is a paraprofessional who works with Charles each day. In their second year together, Charles and Dee are quite a pair, joking together and each smiling big enough to light up the room. On a serious note, Charles lists many things that Dee helps him with each day. He has a condition that affects his mobility and speech, and uses a number of adaptive devices and different types of technology during the school day. One of those is “Eyegaze,” which uses eye tracking and controlling so that Charles can talk with his classmates and teachers when he’s at school. Through that technology, he says:
“Ms. Dee takes me to class, helps me eat, puts me in my stander, reads me books, rides the bus with me and takes me on the elevator.” The “stander” he describes is a chair that helps him stand for about an hour a day, and can be adjusted to different heights depending on what activity Charles is participating in.
Like many first graders, Charles likes talking about himself. Today, he shares that he’s 6 years old, he loves the color blue, his favorite animal is a bird (specifically swans and penguins), talks about his family members, and says that he likes stir fry and chocolate cake. He also loves to shop at Costco with his mom.
As Charles talks, Camp stands near him to help with the Eyegaze. Occasionally the program glitches, or she will help Charles by moving to another screen full of options and words he can select from.
Another student walks into the classroom, and Kaitlin Nuth, the lead LRCII (Learning Resource Center II) teacher at Cedar Trails, introduces him as Dom, a friend of Charles. Dom often seeks Charles out at recess, and ducked into the classroom today to say hello before heading to his own class. The two boys high five, and Charles smiles.
Above, Charles smiles after high-fiving Dom, one of his friends at Cedar Trails. Teacher Kaitlin Nuth is at left, and paraprofessional Dee Camp, at right.
Nuth describes Camp as a critical member of her team. The two met about six years ago when they both worked at Cougar Ridge Elementary. At the time, Camp was working as a substitute paraprofessional at many of the schools in the district, in an effort to decide what she liked best. “One day, I ended up in an LRCII classroom, and that was it – I never wanted to work anywhere else after that,” Camp said.
The feeling was mutual, Nuth said. When she was invited to help open Cedar Trails Elementary several years ago, she hoped that she would get to work with Camp at the new school. The pair ended up together at Cedar Trails along with paraprofessional Pam Covello, who had also worked with them at Cougar Ridge. Their team has continued to grow in the two years since.
“The only way I can make sure my students are successful is with this team,” Nuth says. Their class includes 12 students from first through fifth grade, with a variety of disabilities. “They’re helping me teach. They’re helping me with behaviors. It’s a full, team effort every day.”
Each student spends time in their own grade-level classroom, as well as in Nuth’s room and with specialists such as speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
Before working as a para, Camp volunteered in the classroom and with the PTSA while her own three children were attending Issaquah schools. She heard about subbing from a friend, and decided to give it a try. Now, she says being a para is one of the most rewarding jobs available.
“I love feeling like I am making a difference in someone’s life, and I love being part of a school and team that values and promotes inclusion, kindness, respect, and growth,” Camp says. “The students in our class are no different than the students in the school. They may have different challenges that limit how they learn but they all feel, think, have good days and bad and are full of personality. The biggest challenge for me is learning how to teach someone who learns differently than I do.”
Asked what her typical day is like with Charles, Camp emphasizes that there really is no such thing. “Every day is different, and what may have worked one day will change the next day,” she says. “What is constant is knowing how to be flexible and patient.”
Throughout the day, Camp supports Charles seamlessly, along with other staff members such as the school nurse, an assistive technology specialist and an occupational therapist.
Each afternoon in Nuth’s classroom is a bit different. Some days, the students sing karaoke (Charles likes to sing “Peekaboo”) and other days they have time for purposeful play. On this day, the students also gather with Nuth and their paraprofessionals in the kitchenette near their classroom to make cupcakes in celebration of a classmate’s birthday. It’s a collaborative effort, starting with everyone washing their hands. A third grade student reads instructions aloud, one step at a time, and the other students take turns adding ingredients and stirring. Charles takes a turn, too, with the help of an adaptive device that holds a measuring cup. Occupational therapist Erin Mathias pours cake mix into the measuring cup, and Charles pushes a yellow button that activates a switch on the pouring device. As the cake mix empties into the bowl, Charles’ classmates and the staff team cheer.
Above, Camp reacts as Charles uses the yellow button to activate the adaptive pouring device.
Once the cupcakes are in the oven, the students and staff head back to class, where they play in small groups or pairs. Charles and Dee use the same yellow button to play an electronic version of "tic, tac, toe" with Nuth and another first grade student.
Above, Charles smiles as he plays an electronic game with Camp, a fellow first grade student and Nuth.
After a few rounds of the game, it’s time for all the students to pack up and head home. For Charles, that means transferring to his larger wheelchair with the help of Camp and the nurse. On the way out to the bus, Camp jogs a bit while pushing Charles’ chair – simply because he loves the extra speed. He smiles in response.
As they get closer to the bus that will take him home, however, his smile turns to a very large frown. Camp explains that he is often sad to leave school at the end of the day.
Not to worry, though, Charles will most likely be happy again first thing the next morning. Camp shares that one of her favorite moments happens when she first sees Charles each school day. She rides the school bus to help pick him up. “The minute I get off the bus, he starts smiling and seems so excited to get to school!”
The district is hiring paraprofessionals, for LRCII and other positions. Learn more on the Employment page of our website.