Once a week inside Washington Jr. High you can find a different type of class being taught, one where the staff is the student.
Last school year (2020-2019) Assistant Principal Tonya Martinez started Washington University.
“It’s started because I had an amazing paraprofessional once and I thought how can we help our current paraprofessionals better help our teachers and students,” said Ms. Martinez.
A paraprofessional (para) serves as a teacher assistant, helping teachers manage their students and the classroom. Ms. Martinez invited any interested paraprofessionals at WJHS to join “Washington University.” She would soon learn that the program would go from a teaching moment to a teachable moment.
After speaking with the paras she learned that there were many aspects of their job that the paras wanted to learn how to do or how to do better. Most of them said they didn’t feel confident in their role.
Last year, the group was able to meet every day. The group shared personal stories and got to know each other better. They worked on writing summaries, giving presentations, how to read and write a rubric. The group even created a para handbook to serve as a guide for when new paraprofessionals start.
“The program has empowered them so much so they now have the confidence to lead discussions,” said Ms. Martinez.
Washington University has not only taught them the technical aspect of their job but the emotional aspect as well.
Like all of the RIMSD#41 teaching staff, the paraprofessionals went through Implicit bias training with Paul Forbes, an Anti-Bias and Equity Consultant.
Karen Long a paraprofessional said the experience has been eye-opening, “We can see things from a different lens and collectively make an impact on our students.”
Ellery Stewart says the program has helped him connect with students more, "It has helped me understand the students more and we can help them.”
The program aligns with one of the district’s strategic priorities of “enhance and improve operations” by recruiting, retaining, and developing a diverse staff.
Currently, the group is reading and discussing the book “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” which was bought and donated by Mr. Forbes after he learned about the program.
Ms. Martinez says the program will keep going for as long as the paraprofessionals want to keep learning.
Thank you to all the RIESPA employees that have supported this program.
Pictured from left to right: Sterling Terry, Ellen Pappas, Caleb Dorsey, Jennifer Ross, Ellery Stewart, Trish Sherwin, Nicole Gibbs, Wendi DeFauw, Karen Long, Jennifer Hickman, Barlow McGhee, and Tonya Martinez.