April 4 is National Para Appreciation Day

L to R: intervention specialist Samantha Bjorkman, paraeducators Jill Hurtz and Helen Ristow, and team leader Katie Troupe

The Individual Success Program (ISP) offered by Lincoln Public Schools provides an opportunity to succeed for special education students who need more individualized behavioral and academic instruction than their home schools can provide. Elementary students in the program attend Humann Elementary School, with older students attending the program at Lux Middle School and East High School.

The program focuses on individualized instruction, with ISP team members working one-on-one with students as much as possible. For students, it’s all about their individual success. But for the ISP team at Humann, it’s all about their success as a group - a group so tight-knit that sometimes words aren’t even necessary.

“I think that we have an amazing team dynamic,” said paraeducator Jill Hurtz. “We have such a good connection that a lot of times all we have to do is look at each other and we know what needs to be done.”

Hurtz is one of thousands of paraeducators nationwide being honored on Wednesday, April 4, as part of Paraprofessional Appreciation Day. A paraeducator, typically referred to as a para, is a teaching-related position generally responsible for specialized or concentrated assistance with students. Hurtz and two other paras, Helen Ristow and Toni Daro, are part of the ISP team at Humann. They’re joined by intervention specialist Samantha Bjorkman, team leader Katie Troupe and part-time special education teacher Rachel McNaught.

It’s the first year for the ISP program and the Humann team is already seeing results with their students. For example, parents have said their children are now using coping strategies learned at school at home. One student, a second-grader, sometimes requests a “calming break” at home or at social outings with his family.

Troupe said the program is serving an important purpose.

“The ultimate goal for students is to come to our programming and receive everything instructionally that they need to be successful, to learn how to cope and self-regulate and deal with negative emotions, and to learn how to be a citizen of their school, ultimately with the hope that they’ll return to their home school with these new tools and be successful there,” she said.

Ristow knew when she interviewed for the job that ISP was something special.

“When I left the job interview, I wanted the job but I was even more happy that this program was going to happen,” she said. “I hoped I got the job but I was also just excited that there was going to be growth for these children.”   

Spoken like a true team player.

Published: April 3, 2018, Updated: April 4, 2018