Porter County Education Services, which provides special education services to students throughout Porter County, currently employs nearly 200 paraprofessionals, with over 30 paras working directly with students in Portage Township Schools.
Together, paraprofessionals and special education teachers form an instructional team to assist in meeting the varying educational goals of their students.
Paraprofessionals are responsible for a variety of different duties. While most paras provide academic supports to students by reinforcing instruction, there are many other daily responsibilities that go beyond the classroom. At times, paras assist students with self-help skills and increasing their independence in the school cafeteria and related arts courses. This time of year, you will also see paras spending a great deal of time helping students with zipping coats and correctly putting on gloves and boots.
Paraprofessional support is essential in providing students with meaningful life-skills and vocational experiences. Vocational activities frequently involve assisting students in the community: shopping, running errands, ordering meals in a restaurant, or checking books out from the library. Recreational activities, such as bowling, hiking, and swimming would not be possible without the support of the dedicated paraprofessional staff.
Paraprofessional support also allows students to attend public schools and participate in general education classes that they may not otherwise be able to find success in. They may assist physically handicapped students in maneuvering around the school building, supervising students with various medical needs, or teaching students to improve their study or organizational skills.
Effective paraprofessionals demonstrate a wide variety of skill sets when working with special needs students. It is critical that they are consistent and set high expectations to help students reach their full potential. They are creative and flexible, as no two days are the same. While working in the school setting provides daily challenges, our dedicated staff maintains a positive outlook and demonstrates a good sense of humor.
They must also possess good communication skills, as they are often the link between general education and special education staff.
For most positions, it is required that paraprofessionals meet Indiana’s standards of proficiency by either having earned a 2-year associates degree or 60 college credit hours. Individuals who have not met either of these two requirements must pass the ParaPro Test from the Praxis series. While individuals enter the field for a variety of different reasons, persons interested in the field of education will often secure a position as a paraprofessional either before enrolling or while concurrently enrolled in higher level educational programs.
Staff that have chosen this route have shared that their experiences as a paraprofessional have been invaluable as they have progressed through their college programming, both in providing real life experiences that apply to their coursework and in helping to determine the type of licensure they would like to pursue.
If you are interested in becoming a paraprofessional or a substitute paraprofessional, please visit the Human Resources/Finance section of the Porter County Education website at www.pces.k12.in.us.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.