Spotlight: Going the "Extra Mile for these Kids"

IB ImageKaren Mylly, RBT (right), has worked as a special education paraprofessional at Jack Jackter Intermediate School in Colchester for the past five years. She learned last month that she had been honored for demonstrating exceptional skill and dedication in her role by being selected as Connecticut's 2018 Anne Marie Murphy Paraeducator of the Year. For Mylly, it’s more than an individual award and showcases the commitment to collaboration shared by her colleagues.
"I'm really 'taking one for the team,'" said Mylly, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Colchester Federation of Education Personnel. "Every paraprofessional in this building and in this district has the same qualities. We all go the extra mile for these kids," she added.
The rigorous process for choosing the Paraeducator of the Year from among approximately 14,000 statewide includes a series of candidate nominations, applications and interviews. The effort is coordinated annually by the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council, which includes AFT Connecticut, as well as the current and previous year's honorees.
"To be singled out is a bit uncomfortable for me, knowing that my co-workers are doing the same job at the same level of quality," said Mylly. "The recognition has taken me outside my comfort zone." 
Click here for local news coverage of the announcement of Mylly's recognition.
At the same time, Mylly sees her new role as an opportunity to elevate the profession and raise awareness of the challenges faced by her colleagues across Connecticut.
"One of my goals is to reach out personally to every single district and encourage them to positively support their paraprofessionals," she said. "If every district offered a para of the year recognition, their staff will feel more valued and appreciated — just like our students do when they’re recognized for working hard," Mylly continued.
An additional goal of Mylly's is to help draw attention to the benefits of investing resources in paras' professional development to state policymakers and local district officials across Connecticut. She plans to draw upon her own experience in Colchester where school leaders have prioritized additional training for non-certified support staff — and yielded positive results.
"I've been in touch with our district's director of teaching and learning to come up with creative ways for us to offer valuable professional development for paras," said Mylly. "I plan to put it out there to encourage the rest of the state to get on board — particularly when the funding is not there," she added.
Mylly's belief in the value of PD is backed up by her own record. She is certified in youth mental health first aid, Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) non-violent crisis intervention, and recently completed training as a registered behavior technician (RBT).
"It's not just about academics; we need to meet our students' social and emotional needs, so they can be successful in the classroom," she said. "I work very closely with our district's board certified behavior analyst to come up with behavior plans. That's where we figure out the 'hows' and the 'whys' in order to help our students function in an academic setting and reach their goals," she added.
Mylly's approach to education is based on "meeting the needs of the whole child," an effort that she firmly believes requires the engagement of the entire school community.
"I can't do it alone; we lean on each other very closely," Mylly said of her fellow support staff colleagues. She credits the strong bonds with her students developed by the school building's custodians, main office secretaries and cafeteria food service professionals as key to their shared success.
"Our entire team in incredible; I’m blessed to be able to work with them," Mylly added.
Click here to watch Mylly share more on how she and her colleagues work together on behalf of their students.
National Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day is observed each year on the Wednesday of American Education Week (AEW). It's an important opportunity to honor the contributions that PSRPs like Mylly and her colleagues make to reclaiming the promise of public education.
The annual recognition is also a time to strengthen support and demonstrate greater respect for PSRPs as equal and essential partners in schools across Connecticut and the nation. After all, they represent 40 percent of the nation's public education staff and play vital roles in ensuring their students have the tools needed to succeed.
Click here for national news reporting on this year's ESP Day observations.