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Paraprofessional educators, hit hard by school closures, finding work while missing their students

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LA VISTA — Tristan Mike joked with a coworker as she was clocking out March 12 that they had better verify their hours before leaving in case the elementary school they worked at closed due to the Coronavirus. 

Mike decided to verify her hours to cover her bases. 

Later that evening, the Papillion La-Vista school district notified staff and students that schools would be closed the following day. Paraprofessionals were informed that they were not needed to show up for work. The following week was spring break, which is an unpaid vacation for paraprofessionals. 

Mike spent the week worried about what this would mean for her family. She was anxious about whether she would get another paycheck.

Becky Stallings, another paraprofessional at G. Stanley Hall Elementary, was worried about her position as well.

“Yeah teachers are having a hard time, but paras are too,” Stallings said. “People should be worried about us too because we’re not guaranteed pay. It’s like we were laid off from our jobs in a night.” 

On March 22, paraprofessionals received an email stating schools would be closed on a week to week basis. They were offered their full pay as long as they agreed to return to their positions for the next school year. 

“I feel very fortunate that our school district that they’re still taking care of us and paying us if we choose to come back next year,” Mike said. “That’s a big deal. I’m very thankful.”

Although Mike is guaranteed a paycheck, she still has lingering worries about what this means for her students. 

“You go home for the day and think you’re going to see them the next day and then you don’t see them for the rest of the year,” she said. “They find their way into your heart when you see them everyday.”

Different work opportunities have been offered to paraprofessionals on a volunteer basis. The school district hands out lunches to students every week, and volunteers help distribute them. G. Stanley Hall has been clearing out classrooms for construction plans. There are also chances to meet and work with students virtually.

Stallings meets with two students virtually for about two hours each week. The flexibility of virtual meetings allows for her to work while her young son naps in the afternoon.

Her job remains the same, assisting students with classwork and helping manage classrooms. Although physically it is much less demanding since she does not need to chase students and nobody is trying to sit on her lap, it still holds similar challenges.

“It is very easy for students to get distracted by what’s going on inside their house,” Stallings said. “But I think it’s a good way to stay connected with their teachers and peers with that school vibe, but a little relaxed.”

Mike was unable to get a spot to work with students virtually, but she has helped distribute lunches almost every week. 

“It’s fun getting out of the house and seeing people,” Mike said. “Seeing other adults too.”

Both agree that they miss seeing their students every day and cannot wait to return to work in the fall. 

“I hope they’re keeping up with their school work, and I’m really excited to see them when fall comes around,”  Stallings said.