Wheaton Woods Paraeducator Named Supporting Services Employee of the Year
Wheaton Woods Elementary School special education paraeducator Michelle Schwarz always gives 110 percent. She sees herself as an instructional leader, and isn’t afraid to jump in when she knows she can help. She is this year’s Supporting Services Employee of the Year, an award given by SEIU Local 500.
When she joined the school in 2016, she arranged her schedule to join grade-level planning meetings; co-planned with some teachers; co-taught lessons and solicited feedback from teachers and administrators; tracked her impact using student performance data; and reflected on her efforts in order to refine them.
She has shown initiative in creating and implementing instructional support for struggling readers. She’s helped first graders obtain the required sight word knowledge. For older students, she keeps a lending library, which gives students access to high-interest books.
Colleagues call her a positive problem solver, dynamic and creative. When she sees students who are struggling, she takes the initiative to help them. She is always looking for ways to empower students. When reading specialist Traci Matturro taught a Words Their Way course for classroom teachers, Schwarz asked whether paraeducators could participate. “I was thrilled,” Matturro said, and Schwarz went on to recruit others who could join. “From that learning, she was able to support multiple grade levels, which lowered class sizes and impacted student achievement.”
She’s also a social-emotional leader in the building. When she noticed that most student behavioral problems happen during recess or during lunch, she sprung into action, creating a system to recognize students who display positive behaviors during these times.
She also makes sure student achievements are celebrated with the Café ROAR awards. These awards are given to student role models and their entire class. During the school’s monthly town halls, she recognizes students who’ve had exceptionally positive behavior with Wildcat Awards.
Every year, she participates in the school’s mentoring program, and goes above and beyond to build and foster positive relationships with students. She’s also creating a peer mentorship program, during which students in the upper grades will teach social skills to younger students.