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Serving as the ‘bridge,’ bilingual paraeducator wins state honor


WALLINGFORD — As Gina Cabrera sat in the lobby of Moses Y. Beach School Friday, she smiled and laughed as she waved to children walking into the school. Some children walked up to Cabrera and hugged her, after she complimented their pajamas.

“It’s Pajama Day today!” Cabrera said excitedly as she laughed.

Cabrera is the bilingual paraeducator at Moses Y. Beach. She frequently works with children and families who don’t speak English, serving as the “bridge between the families and school,” she said. While the majority of her time consists of working with students, Cabrera added that she also works with the teachers in the school.

“I help with translating all the documentation they need to send home and the jobs they need the kids to have done,” she explained. “There’s very good communication between all the teachers and myself.”

Because of her work and dedication to the school and students, it was announced last school year that Cabrera was Wallingford’s Paraeducator of the Year. In October, the state Department of Education announced she received the 2014 Annie Marie Murphy Paraeducator of the Year Award. The award, formerly known as the Connecticut Paraeducator of the Year Award, was renamed in honor of Murphy, a special education paraprofessional who was killed in the Newton tragedy.

Cabrera moved to Wallingford 18 years ago from Chile. Thirty years ago, her husband lived in town for a year as an exchange student — graduating from Sheehan High School.

His host family visited Cabrera 20 years ago, which is when she said the idea to move to America with her husband and two children came to fruition.

Growing up, Cabrera said, she pretended to be a teacher, which she eventually became. She credits her aunt, who was also a teacher and even a principal in Chile, for her desire to teach children.

Susan Rhodes, a bilingual teacher at Moses Y. Beach, said working with Cabrera is enjoyable “because she genuinely loves all the kids.”

“Teaching is really her passion,” she said. “It’s a joy working with her. She’s so effective with the children and she really understands what’s developmentally appropriate for children.”

Working with predominately Spanish-speaking students, Cabrera said she works one-on-one with them in the classroom. It’s the one-on-one time she finds valuable because its an opportunity for her to learn about each student.

“I spend more time listening to them and learning about the person they are. I like that the most — the intimacy with the students,” Cabrera explained. “I learn more about their families and what they like, so the next time I teach them, I use those things as a tool to teach them what needs to be taught.”

“Seeing the happiness on their faces, getting those high fives they give and the feeling that they’re a champion, nothing can replace that.”

Aside from helping the students with their school work, Cabrera emphasized the importance of “supporting them all the time.”

With Friday being Pajama Day at Moses Y. Beach, Cabrera and all the staff wore their pajamas.

“They feel like you’re really connected with them,” Cabrera explained. “My job is to support them and any of their needs. And it’s the same with teachers.”

In addition to working at the school, she also teaches catechism at Holy Trinity Church and serves as a homework helper at the Wallingford Public Library. She also runs a dance club at the school, where she teaches participants Latin American dances, she said.

Cabrera said she was honored and humbled to win the award.

“Even if it’s me, I’m representing a big group of people that are very hard working,” she said. “The school is a team. We work together. When we work together, there’s very good results for all of us.”

evo@record-journal.com (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ



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