Everyone knows the role of a teacher in the school system.
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 para-educators 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, held each summer to mark the beginning of the school year, 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 the Para-Educator of the Year.
A former CCD teacher, Dutchyshyn, who works as an instructional assistant (IA) 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. In describing the work Dutchyshyn and others put in to help manage and support the student population, one can’t help but be impressed with the amount of responsibility on their plate.
“This year, Jodi is working with 94 first-graders in five classrooms,” Bruzik says. Although that number seems intimidating, Dutchyshyn is already familiar with not only their names, but also with the quirks of their developing personalities.
Keeping ahead of nearly 100 first-graders while supporting their behavorial and academic needs is a skillset 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.”
“I try to make sure that I’m present in each of the five classrooms, wherever they need me,” says Dutchyshyn.
“If (Jodi) is absent, the day changes,” laughs Bruzik.
Dutchyshyn helps the young learners with everything from tying shoes, taking a trip to the nurses’ office, or with the adjustment to being in a new school. Dutchyshyn was able to draw on her time working at Darcey School with kindergarteners to help students transition to the elementary school.
“Some of them needed a little support, coming to a new building,” she explained. “They love that I used to work at Darcey. Some of them couldn’t believe that I was here (at Doolittle) too!”
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, Dutchyshyn began devoting additional time to students who need extra help with reading or math skills. One reason she was nominated for her award was the job she has done helping the students with whom she has worked to 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.”
“She completely deserves it,” Bruzik says. “She is such a special person and the kids have good relationships with her. I couldn’t do my job successfully without the work she does. I can’t say enough to praise Jodi.”
District leaders agree. “Our para-educators play a pivotal role under the direction of our teachers to help students develop educational and personal educational independence. They coach and support specific skills that enable our students to own their education in the hopes that guidance will no longer be necessary. Dutchyshyn does this with compassion, skill, and dedication on a daily basis. Our students are blessed to have her in their lives,” says Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan.
As for the award itself, though it was presented to Dutchyshyn, she was eager to share credit and recognition with her fellow IAs and other members of Doolittle’s staff.
“All the IAs should be recognized,” she says. “We have amazing teachers (at Doolittle). We work so hard with the classroom teacher. I was so honored when I got the email (announcing the award). I was so humbled.”