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Paraprofessionals: a diverse group ready to help where needed 

Parents among those who serve students’ needs

Kenowa Hills — Paraprofessional Chris Donihue starts her day at Central Elementary taking a lap around the building with a schedule of students to check in with. 

At 9:20 a.m. on a recent Friday morning, she visited a kindergarten kiddo in need of a brain break.

Without disrupting the teacher’s math lesson, Donihue quietly entered the classroom, knelt on the floor and asked Sawyer if it was time to take a walk.

The two left ventured down to the gym, where he got to ride around on a tricycle and burn some energy before returning to class, ready to learn. 

“On Fridays, we can use the gym for breaks,” Donihue said. “We’ve worked with them enough to know when they need their breaks during the day.”  

Central’s team of paraprofessionals help where they can in the cafeteria, monitor students during recess and assist teachers in the special education classrooms. Some are assigned to a specific job, while others float around where they’re needed. 

‘Without our parapros, our school would fall apart. They are the reason we can do what we do and they are consistently honoring what students need throughout the day.’

— Central Elementary Principal Cherie Horner 

Donihue is one of two least restrictive environment paraprofessionals at Central who work with students with individualized education programs, or IEPs, and has been at Central for five years. And she’s one of the many paraprofessionals who are vital to the work of the K-5 school. 

“A lot of the students we work with one-on-one are in kindergarten and first grade because they’re still learning,” she said. “Some kiddos I work with really struggle with meltdowns and (by the end of the year) they don’t even need breaks.”

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a passion for behavioral work, Donihue started as a recess parapro, staying longer on days when the staff needed an extra hand.

“I was a foster mom for 15 years and after that, I was looking for something to do where I could work with kids,” she said. 

A mother of six children, with her youngest currently in fifth grade at Central, Donihue said her favorite part of her job is building long-term relationships with students.  

“We watch them change, grow and learn how to control their own behaviors in the classroom,” she said. “Some of them, I’ve known since they were in kindergarten.” 

Living to Serve Students 

With a team of over 20 part- and full-time paraprofessionals of different ages, religions and backgrounds, Principal Cherie Horner said they are essential to Central Elementary. 

“Without our parapros, our school would fall apart,” Horner said. “They are the reason we can do what we do and they are consistently honoring what students need throughout the day.” 

Horner said many of Central’s paraprofessionals are former teachers, Kenowa HIlls graduates and parents of current students, who reflect the school’s diverse student population. 

“It’s great to see parapros that look like our kids,” Horner said. “Some are bilingual, practicing Muslims or previously taught in another country.” 

Parent and bilingual recess parapro Christopher Goggans often works on reading and writing skills with students individually, with the occasional trip to the gym to shoot some hoops. 

After coming inside the building after recess, parapro Kathy Koehler said, “I have the best job here. I get to be outside with students all day.” 

Central Elementary’s staff of part- and full-time paraprofessionals

Erica Yearsovich started working as a parapro in the Autism Spectrum Disorder classroom this year after being part of the Central recess parapros since 2021.  

“The children are our favorite part of the job,” she said. “It’s what we live for, seeing their hard work, their perseverance and enthusiasm about learning.”

Yearsovich said when she works with students on their learning goals, she is “110% in.”

“I tell my students, if you work with me, I will be here every day to work with you,” she said. “We have a dance party when they accomplish their goals; big or small, we celebrate all accomplishments.” 

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Super subs: Familiar faces offer classroom consistency
Restorative circles create safe space at the top of the day

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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