CHESHIRE — Everyone knows the role of a teacher.
Standing in front of a classroom, doling out information, helping to shape young minds, all comes with the territory of being in the teaching profession. And that’s definitely true of paraeducators as well.
“I always try to make the connection with a child. I want them to know they’re OK,” explains Jodi Dutchyshyn. “We’re tracking how they grow, how they’re feeling. But the most important thing about my job is to stay flexible. We may have an agenda, but the needs of the kids always come first ... I try to keep a step ahead.”
At its yearly Convocation Ceremony in late-August, Cheshire Public Schools handed out two very special awards. The first went to Cheshire High School English teacher Dawn DeMeo for being named district Teacher of the Year.
The second went to Dutchyshyn, named district Paraeducator of the Year.
Dutchyshyn, who works as an instructional assistant at Doolittle School, began her career in the public schools as a substitute in 2012, before moving full-time to her IA position at Doolittle.
Not everyone is familiar with the work that these instructors do, according to Curriculum Instructional Leader Mary Bruzik, who supervises Dutchyshyn at Doolittle.
“This year, Jodi is working with 94 first-graders in five classrooms,” Bruzik says. Although the number seems intimidating, Dutchyshyn is already familiar with their names and the quirks of their developing personalities.
Keeping ahead of nearly 100 first-graders while supporting their behavioral and academic needs is a skill set that requires certain inherent instincts.
“Jodi’s a go-getter in the sense that I don’t have to say where she should be, she just anticipates, every given moment of the day,” says Bruzik. “She’s so good about bringing information to me. I couldn’t do my job without her.”
Dutchyshyn helps the young learners with things like tying shoes, taking a trip to the nurses’ office or with the adjustment to being in a new school.
“Some of them needed a little support, coming to a new building,” she said.
Her primary duties involve helping with students, but also include “supporting the teachers in classroom management, small group and individual instruction.”
All of it, she explains, involves working as a team to establish baseline performance standards. In December, IAs like Dutchyshyn begin devoting additional time to students who need extra help with reading or math skills. One reason she was nominated for the award was her work to help students record significant improvements. As Bruzik put it in her nominating letter, “The students love working with Jodi and she makes the most of each lesson and always pushes her students to work hard.”
District leaders agree.
“Our paraeducators play a pivotal role under the direction of our teachers to help students develop educational and personal educational independence,” said Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan. “They coach and support specific skills that enable our students to own their education in the hopes that guidance will no longer be necessary. Ms. Dutchyshyn does this with compassion, skill, and dedication on a daily basis.”