Sunday, February 2, 2014

It Takes a Village

Posy by Sharon Woodworth: Sharon has served a para-educator at Bettendorf High School for 14 years. She leads by example every day.

I started as a para-educator at Bettendorf High School in early 2000 after spending ten years at home raising my children as a single parent.  I also provided daycare for friends and neighbors. I found a need to get back out there and after being surrounded by young ones all day, I wanted to challenge myself with an “older” crowd. The high school seemed like a perfect fit for me!

I spent my first seven years as a para-educator assisting the Behavioral Disorder program in the Special Education Department.  I worked closely with those teenagers that came from dysfunctional families, broken homes, were homeless or many times resistant to authority.  I’ll admit that at first glance, I would not have given many of these kids much chance of success, but as the year went on and I actually got to know the kids….my eyes opened up and eventually my heart followed!  Granted, not all of the students I have come across are loveable, but they each have a story and some are less willing to share than others.

Many of them felt the need to keep up their rough exterior, their “I don’t care” attitude.  But, little by little, they would let down their guard and I hoped they saw I was not the enemy.  Rather, I hoped they saw I was someone who cared!  It felt very rewarding to develop a rapport with these students whose lives were so different from mine and feel that I might be making a difference, at least… at that moment; for that day!  It was very interesting, the perceptions they had of me.  Many thought I HAD to be rich!  I quickly dispelled that one.  The part I found most frustrating was that I couldn't always make as big an impact as I had hoped (that’s the mother in me, I guess).  Often these students would still go on to make bad decisions once they stepped outside our walls.  The influence of their home environment and peers was too strong compared to our best intentions!  I would much rather see them walk across that stage to get their diploma than see them drop out, get sent to Annie Wittnmeyer (residential placement), or worse yet, jail.  These students definitely made an impact on my life.  Sometimes living in Bettendorf we live in a “bubble” and we don’t think there are students here who have it THAT bad…who are so poor…who are suffering, but we definitely do!

After some restructuring of the Special Ed program at BHS, I then went on to work with students who have, at some level, a Learning Disability with reading and math. I have been in and out of many different classrooms, assisting the teachers with students that have accommodations. I actually LOVE this part of my job because I have been able to get to know more of the staff than I had before and develop some close relationships.  With the assistance of the teacher, I am able to further instruct on a 1: 1 or smaller group basis. I have noticed that being involved in different classes and subjects, I have become sort of a “Jack of all trades, master of none”, and my trivia knowledge has more than doubled!! Being a para-educator means wearing many different hats and being flexible.  

Many of you may already know I also work at the Bettendorf YMCA (and now the Utica Ridge YMCA, too) and I love the surprised look on the students’ faces when they first recognize me behind the desk! Seeing many of “my” students over the years at the Y has helped me bridge the relationship I started with them at school and extend it out into the community.  I would much rather see them expend their excess energy playing basketball at the Y than out on the streets where the bad influences lie!

Building relationships with our students, “special” or not, is important if we want to make any difference in their lives. I truly believe “it takes a village” to raise our kids and with the extra help para-educators can lend to a classroom, by helping to put a student with a disability on a more even playing field.
Even though my role here at Bettendorf has expanded and changed over the years, it has been the best fourteen years of work experience. Bettendorf High School has a wonderful staff and I have enjoyed watching our students grow and eventually leave the BHS nest!!


  1. Sharon,
    What a wonderful post! You have been an incredible support system for hundreds of kids over the last 14 years. We are blessed to have someone of your caliber working at BHS. You are absolutely spot on when you say that every student has a story! Thank goodness we have great people like you who get it and then do everything possible to help our students feel connected. However, you also help our staff feel connected because you go out of your way on a daily basis to serve them as well. You are a leader Sharon and we are grateful for your service to BHS. Thank you for being not only an excellent teacher, but an excellent person! - jimmy

  2. Awesome post Sharon!! You do so much for students here at BHS! We are fortunate to have you!