Kent City — “Miss Tina, Miss Tina!” As third grade races out to recess, students pause to greet their paraprofessional, Tina Wray.
It’s the kind of enthusiastic greeting Wray has come to expect at Kent City Elementary. As a paraprofessional, she provides educational and behavioral support to students, mostly outside of the classroom. She excels in the role and it shows in the students’ excited response, says her coworker Julie Klinger.
“The children absolutely love her. She’s at the age where she plays football with them, sits down and does crafts with them,” said Klinger, who works with Wray in the after-school program. “We’re really, really fortunate to have her.”
‘I always focus on the kids. That’s why I’m here. I want to make their day better.’– paraprofessional Tina Wray
This is Wray’s third year in the district. When her son started at Kent City Elementary, she was searching for a job that would match the hours he was in school. She started substituting at different school districts, but found her way back to Kent City schools, working first with the emotionally impaired program at Kent City Middle School, then at the elementary.
It’s turned out to be a great place for her, professionally and personally.
“It’s a smaller school, so you really get to know the kids, and I enjoy that,” Wray said. “And I get to see my son. That’s a huge bonus.”
A Do-it-all Job
Wray does a little bit of everything: from cleaning up after breakfast to monitoring the cafeteria and watching over recess, to manning the crosswalk after school and working in the after-school program.
“I get to work with everywhere from the pre-schoolers all the way up to the fifth-graders, and that’s really cool,” Wray said. “There’s something unique about each one of them.”
From teaching first-graders table manners to helping older students learn to manage conflict, she said, “I always focus on the kids. That’s why I’m here. I want to make their day better. I want to make them feel special … make a difference if I can.”
Wray goes out of her way to connect with students and meet them where they’re at. When a student shared recently that he was worried about things he saw on the news, Wray paused to talk with him about her own feelings of worry and how to manage those feelings.
A Perfect Fit
Wray has a bachelor’s degree with a major in communications and minor in business from Grand Valley State University, and worked full-time in an office after college. When she was pressured to work overtime even after her son was born, though, Wray decided to stay home with him for a while. Now, she said, “There’s not a day that I’m like ‘I have to go to work today’ and fret about it.”
Kent City Elementary students learn a range of voice volume levels appropriate for different situations, from one (silence) to four (screaming and shouting). Third-grade recess is a four.
“You have to like children to want to do this job,” Wray explained, adding only certain types of people “are going to be able to handle the noise level, for one thing.”
Wray is definitely that type of person: As she calmly keeps an eye on the gaga ball pit during the mayhem that is third-grade recess, students approach Wray with questions, for help with a minor injury, and just to chat.
“They all feel comfortable [with me], they tell me ‘look at this loose tooth,’ or they’ll tell me just random stories,” Wray said. “I love that, just being a part of their lives, listening to them, and making them feel important.”