Paraprofessionals prove essential to Staples


Jane Levy & Max Bibicoff , Features Editor & Staff Writer

Soft classical music plays in room 1045, a room with which few students at Staples are familiar. The music was interrupted by the sporadic outbursts of giggles from students and their paraprofessionals. All across the walls, student’s paintings and activities are displayed. In the corner of the room, a wall labeled “Selfies” is lined with silly photographs revealing the regulars of room 1045.

Some students aren’t aware of the the tight-knit group of Staples paraprofessionals whose jobs, as special education workers, are to perform individual and organizational duties with students who have special needs.

“I just want to make for a fun learning environment – the kids are happy, they’re learning, they’re safe,” Sarah Stanley, one of the special education teachers, said with a smile.

Although she had planned on becoming a Kindergarten teacher, Stanley worked with students with special needs at a school in Trumbull, Connecticut prior to working at Staples. After that, she knew this was the job she was meant to pursue.

Andre Williams, a paraprofessional who has worked at Staples for two years, loves the individualistic aspect of Staples’ special education program.

“Some people just like to lump kids in special education together [without] seeing how individual the kids are, how different they are,” he said while helping student Jake Schutte with an activity.

Across the room, paraprofessional Drew Smith, who has worked in the Westport Public School District as a paraprofessional for seven years, sat with another student who was watching a movie. Smith agreed with Williams about Staples’ program, as he said, “I’ve been around places where some people just walk by and don’t even acknowledge them. But here, people will say ‘Hi’ and go out of their way to help the kids, like holding the door.”

An integral part of being a paraprofessional is fostering close relationships with the students. Together, they ride the bus to school in the morning and sometimes venture off-campus for lunch.

However, the group’s favorite activity is going on field trips—including grocery shopping at Stop & Shop and visiting the Westport Art Center—that provide the students with hands-on activities as part of a community inclusion program.

Although Williams has only been working in the program for two years, he has taken its goals to heart.

“We make sure that their programs are getting done, following their protocols and just helping them achieve their goals each day,” he said. “Seeing them succeed makes you feel good about yourself.”

While being a Kindergarten teacher was appealing at one point, Stanley wouldn’t trade the experiences she has had.

“Some people wake up, and they dread going to work – I don’t,” she said. “The program’s fantastic and the support you get is amazing.”

“Being able to see the kids succeed and be happy…” Stanley paused as a grin spread across her face. “The smallest gains are huge to them, so it’s a rewarding job.”