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School is one place where all students, no matter what their level of ability is, are entitled to a full complement of services. Under the law, every student is entitled to a meaningful education, and for students with Cerebral Palsy, paraprofessionals can be the link that makes that goal a reality.
A paraprofessional helps a child with all of his or her needs during the school day; depending on a child’s condition, he or she may have a paraprofessional assigned only to them. Whether a child’s paraprofessional works with them exclusively or in a group, their contributions to a child’s educational experience encourage participation, learning, and equal opportunity.
Paraprofessionals play an integral role in a child’s education
As educational goals change, and class sizes increase in US schools, the jobs ranks of paraprofessionals are swelling. This is generally viewed as a positive development because it puts more adults into situations at school where teachers are challenged to provide the individual attention students need to learn and thrive.
Most often, paraprofessionals will work with groups of students. In the special education environment, he or she may be assigned to one student for the entire school year. However the paraprofessional/student arrangement works, it’s clear that having an aide is immensely helpful to students in special education or mainstreamed classrooms that need additional attention or assistance.
Like all other aspects of education, however, the rules and regulations that govern how paraprofessionals are assigned to children, the scope of their job responsibilities, and their education and experience are diverse.
According to the National Education Association, there are currently three million paraprofessionals working in the United States; that number is growing at a faster rate than teachers. For that reason, it’s crucial that parents understand how a paraprofessional can impact their child’s overall education and school experience.
What is a paraprofessional?
A paraprofessional is an employee of a school district or private school that serves as an additional support for educators. They do not provide instruction to students, but they provide assistance to teachers in helping children complete tasks and understand concepts. As an assistant, the duties of a paraprofessional vary widely from school to school; most often, they help children complete class work, help grade papers, help load children onto buses – anything that helps a teacher make his or her goal for the day. Most often, paraprofessionals are found in elementary school classrooms.
Paraprofessionals may be found in several types of learning environments, including:
- Elementary schools
- Special education classrooms
- Early childhood education facilities
- Daycare centers and preschools
- Vocational education centers
- Community colleges
- Adult education centers
Paraprofessionals may be called by several different names, including:
- Behavior Interventionist
- Classroom specialist
- Child care assistants
- Classroom aide or assistant
- Education assistant
- Education Technician
- Instructional Aide
- Learning Program Assistant
- Occupational Information Specialist
- Programs Assistant
- Speech/Language Assistant
- Special Education Assistant
- Teaching Assistant or Aide
Paraprofessionals, in a mainstreamed classroom, have a variety of duties that both enhance a child’s classroom experience, and help the teacher focus more closely on instruction. Some of the tasks a paraprofessional may perform include:
- Light tutoring
- Classroom management, enforcement of rules
- Organizing and handing out materials
- Taking attendance and maintaining records
- Conduct parental involvement activities
- One-on-one assistance, help with lessons
- Supervise recreational activities
- Help children with coursework
- Grading homework
- Act as a translator for ESL students
If a student has significant disabilities, a paraprofessional’s duties undergo a shift depending on a student’s ability level. In some cases, students with a disability are not in need of constant attention; he or she may interact with paraprofessionals in the same way other children. Other times, a child’s needs require a paraprofessional full-time. Under this scenario, a child will be assigned a full-time paraprofessional to help a child exclusively.
In all situations, paraprofessionals need to be able to demonstrate considerable skills to work in the education field, especially if he or she is working with young children. Some of the traits a paraprofessional may exhibit include:
- Communication skills
- Instructional acumen
- An interest in children
How do paraprofessionals help children with disabilities?
A child that has a disability has an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, that outlines the scope his or her education. This plan may specify the individual aspects of a child’s day at school; the IEP will lay out how much time a child is in a special education classroom versus a mainstream setting, and what assistance and services he or she may need to be successful in school.
The parameters of the IEP are largely contingent on a child’s condition. This is also true when it comes to determining how – or if – a child will need paraprofessional assistance. Sometimes, this means that a child will be assigned a paraprofessional that will help him or her with specific tasks, such as writing down his or answers on a test. Other times, it means a paraprofessional will take care of all of a child’s needs during the school day.
A one-on-one paraprofessional will assist a child with basic needs, including:
- Personal hygiene
- Transportation throughout the school facility
- Physical assistance in completing assignments
- Boarding and disembarking the bus
- Assisting students with using adaptive equipment, computers
- Encouraging socialization and relationship building
What are the benefits of working with a paraprofessional?
It’s natural for parents to be concerned with the fact that someone that is not a teacher will be working so closely with their child at school. In fact, some parents are concerned that if a child is working with a paraprofessional, he or she will get less attention from a teacher. In the vast majority of cases, that’s something a parent need not worry about.
The benefits of working with a paraprofessional are numerous for a child. The role of the paraprofessional is to carry the teacher’s message, and make possible a child’s ability to participate in educational activities. This means that lessons taught to other children will be as, if not more, palatable for students that have disabilities.
An added layer of security is also an added benefit of working with a paraprofessional. An adult that is specifically assigned to look after a child, as long as he or she does not impede on a child’s social opportunities, can ensure a child’s needs are met inside the school, and on the playground. However, the paraprofessional must learn to observe but not hover in order for this to work.
In the best of scenarios, a paraprofessional has the time and interest in being a role model, and a trusting presence, in a child’s life. A teacher – charged with the responsibility of educating a group of children – may not have the time to offer sage advice, or to be a friend to a child. A paraprofessional, especially if he or she is exclusively assigned to a child, has time to develop a relationship with a child that can provide additional support to a child during his or her formative years.
What are a school district’s responsibilities regarding training and assigning paraprofessionals?
School districts have a responsibility to provide every child with a disability under the IDEA law. It’s called a Free and Appropriate Education, and it means that a child will receive an education that is meaningful, and to the best extent possible, marketable.
Under the IDEA law, school districts are responsible for providing adequate training to paraprofessionals to prepare him or her to work with a special needs child. The law recognizes that additional training and resources are may be required for a paraprofessional due to the amount of time spent with a child. To meet that end, the IDEA law requires states to adopt a policy that requires schools to take measurable steps to train qualified individuals. The law also provides for grant funding that districts can use to train personnel to meet the needs of children with disabilities.
Much of how a paraprofessional/child relationship will play out is rooted in a child’s IEP plan. In this required plan, all of the factors that affect a child’s education are covered. This plan will help determine whether a child has a paraprofessional all day, part of the day, or only for certain tasks.
This is a positive for parents because it gives them a measure of control regarding how often their child is assisted or supervised by a paraprofessional. Because districts must seek a parent’s approval before an IEP can be implemented, this gives a parent pull in this regard.
Some aspects of working with paraprofessionals that parents often concern themselves with include:
- Teachers may not directly engage a student with a disability because of the paraprofessional
- Paraprofessionals spend time with a child with complex needs and are not teachers
- Whether having a paraprofessional in tow going to cause social troubles for a child
- Whether the assistance provided by paraprofessionals equal to that would be received by other children
From the beginning of a child’s education, a parent has the absolute right to be informed of a paraprofessional’s qualifications. If a parent discovers that a paraprofessional is not a good match for his or her child, he or she may ask for a revision on the IEP plan, or simply ask district officials to assign a new paraprofessional.
In most instances, paraprofessionals that have received appropriate training are able to competently meet a child’s needs. It is in the school district’s best interest to ensure they have an adequate number of paraprofessionals trained to work with special needs. Districts expend monies to train paraprofessionals; they have a vested interest in making sure that those they have invested in are performing their jobs successfully.
What skills/education does a person need to find work as a paraprofessional?
The credentials required to work as a paraprofessional depend on several factors, including the nature of their job duties, the type of student they work with, and the date of hire. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paraprofessionals earn about $23,000 per year and most often work part-time.
Paraprofessional hired before January of 2002, were required to hold a secondary school diploma or its equivalent. However, the laws regarding the employment of paraprofessionals changed in 2002. Today, paraprofessionals funded by Title 1 monies are required to complete two years of study at an institution of higher learning; a person may also hold and associates degree. They must also meet standards set by states, which administer assessments to determine the skill levels of paraprofessionals.
Most of the training provided to paraprofessionals is handled by school systems. Districts may offer to train over the summer or during the school year that will help paraprofessionals interact with students in the classroom. Paraprofessionals that work with students with disabilities are required to participate in additional training to work with students with challenges; they are often paid more for the higher-level work.
What certifications or accreditations are needed to be employed as a paraprofessional?
All paraprofessionals are required to pass a state examination. To work as a paraprofessional, and work with special needs children, most states require an applicant to take a skills-based test that addresses childhood development, psychology, and best practices in the classroom.
Additionally, states outline requirements that applicants must meet to be able to sit for an examination. Though these guidelines vary from state to state, most governments require the following conditions to be met or exceeded:
- Must have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Must participate in training activities to ensure skills are up-to-date
- Must hold an associates’ degree or have completed two years of post-secondary education
What is the parent’s role in the child/paraprofessional relationship?
As in all aspects of a child’s education, parental involvement is an invaluable resource as a child begins to work with a paraprofessional. A parent knows what a child’s physical and emotional needs are and the first to know when their child is under duress or is uncomfortable with a new person in his or her life.
A parent often plays dual roles in this new relationship. The paraprofessional needs to be able to get to know a child to understand his or her challenges; a parent can help bridge that gap from unfamiliar face to a trusted friend and assistant. On the other hand, a child might have a lot of feelings about being paired with a new adult. A parent can help ease a child’s mind by making clear that this new person is there to help him or her and that the paraprofessional really wants to be his or her friend.
Parents also have certain rights when it comes to paraprofessionals. They may help special education officials determine how a paraprofessional works with a child. They can ask if someone new can be assigned to their child if a pairing is not working out or request a same-sex paraprofessional once a child is older and more self-conscious.
For parents and children, a paraprofessional can be a positive force in a child’s education, and his or her life.
Finding a child care program or facility that meets the needs of a child with Cerebral Palsy is an expensive undertaking. Luckily, families that meet a certain set of criteria can take advantage of government funding and supports.
Government-Assisted Child Care
Child Tax Credits
Ask your tax consultant if you are eligible for:
Ask your employer if they offer pre-tax accounts for child and dependent care.
Child and Adult Care Information
Child Care Resources
Do you have doubts that someone else can care for your child?
Government assistance – also known as public assistance – is aid, service or supports that are provided to an individual by a government agency based on established criteria – income, disability, dependency or need, for example. Government resources come in the form of cash, food, services, shelter, technology, supports, and more.
- Cash Assistance: SSI, SSDI and TANF
- Child Care Assistance
- Education Assistance
- Employment Assistance
- Energy Assistance: LIHEAP, WAP and Others
- Health Care: Medicare
- Health Insurance: CHIP, Medicaid, and more
- Housing and Rental Assistance
- Nutrition Assistance: SNAP, WIC and more
- Safety and Protection