Support staff earn honors
Posted on: Dec 6, 2022
A school can’t operate without the numerous support staff who come alongside teachers and students to aid them in their teaching and learning.
Whether in transportation, food service, custodial, paraprofessional or other categories, all are needed to help a school district function effectively.
In November Delano Public Schools recognized four individuals with Educational Support Staff Awards for their outstanding service to the district. Those honored included Delano Elementary School special education paraprofessional Barb Kenison, Delano Intermediate School special education paraprofessional Joelle Strandquist, former Delano High School paraprofessional Kim Muckenhirn, and bus driver Janet Berzins.
Information about each is included below.
School staff have taken note of Berzins, who drives a special education bus for Delano students and also worked as a paraprofessional for extended school year classes in 2020-21.
“She thoroughly understands what the needs of each of her students are and what things they enjoy,” said an anonymous nomination statement. “She has a kind heart, hard work ethic and truly shows passion for her job.”
Berzins has also driven the bus for Unified Basketball events in recent years.
“She cares for everyone that enters her bus with appropriate accommodations and a positive attitude,” said the nomination.
Kenison has been on staff at Delano Elementary for 15 years. How did she get her start?
“Our youngest son had a medical diagnosis of autism and received services through MAWSECO and Delano Elementary School,” Kenison said. “I was so grateful for the social support, love and learning he received through each staff member. Being hired as a para gave me the opportunity to give back to the community and work with these amazing individuals who supported us through our journey. It was a bonus to have the same schedule as our boys so I could enjoy our time off together.”
An anonymous nomination on Kenison’s behalf noted her cheerful disposition and ready laugh that is shared with students on a daily basis.
“She seeks out ways to keep our special education students included in their classroom activities,” the nomination said. “She models and supports communication for kids using speech-generating devices. She contributes to our school climate with her work with the social committee, and works on fundraisers that benefit families in our community.”
Kenison said her favorite aspect of the job is the constant interaction with those she serves.
“I love going to work each day and seeing the smiles on my students faces. Working in special education helps you appreciate each small success they have,” she said. “I’m honored to receive this recognition and thank my co-workers who took the time to write these kind words.”
Helping children has been Strandquist’s life work, as she has spent 14 summers at Bible camps, so taking a para position during the school year was a natural fit.
“The prospect of getting to help kids during the school year and continuing to work at camp over the summer was very appealing to me,” she said.
Strandquist is now in her eighth year with Delano Public Schools, having worked in the middle/high school from 2015-2018 and moving up to the new intermediate school in 2018. She said she was specifically chosen to the special education field for several reasons, one of which was her experience helping a student with special needs at her church.
“I have always acknowledged that every person has intrinsic value and should be treated with dignity and respect,” Strandquist said. “Getting to work with this student helped the theoretical become practical for me, and was also deeply rewarding. I found that many times extensive training and experience, while valuable, may be less essential than a kind smile, a listening ear, and a lot of patience. I love to learn and I wanted to help learners who may be struggling for any number of reasons discover that they have the ability to learn and grow.”
A large collection of anonymous nominations on Strandquist’s behalf testified to her dedication and skill.
“She gives her best effort every day for our kids,” one said. “She is gentle without allowing the kids too much freedom, kind, industrious and looks for the positives every day.”
“Joelle is amazing,” said another. “She goes out of her way every step, every minute, every situation.”
A third nomination noted her perceptive handling of students and their surroundings.
“Joelle knows her students well and works well with the teacher and class to create the best environment for her students,” it said. “She is always coming up with innovative ways to provide her students the same access as every other student.”
Several individuals referred to a case on an overnight trip when Strandquist worked with a fragile student well into the early morning hours to ensure the student’s safety and comfort.
“She has the patience of a saint,” one nomination said.
Strandquist said her favorite as aspect of the job is getting to know her students, and watching them develop their confidence and independence over the intermediate school years.
“I also enjoy troubleshooting what works best for each student and helping provide opportunities for flexible learning based on individual learning styles. There is so much variety in my day; no two days are alike,” she said.
While the nominations acknowledged that Strandquist is not one to seek attention, she said the award is greatly appreciated.
“So much of what we do as paras happens behind the scenes. Being recognized with this award was a great encouragement to me that our efforts are being seen and appreciated,” Strandquist said. “The ESS Award is a good reminder that all of us — from administrative assistants, cooks, custodians, paras, and everyone in between — are on one big team together with the licensed staff. Each and every person is essential to creating a positive and successful learning environment for our students. … I work with an amazing team and have selfless co-workers who are always willing to step in and help wherever they can.”
Muckenhirn was nominated for the honor last spring after working for Delano Public Schools from 2008 to the spring of 2022.
An anonymous nomination submitted on her behalf last spring praised her steady approach and overall contributions to creating a quality learning environment.
“Kim is consistent, patient, supportive and encouraging to students,” the nomination said. “She helps so much to keep the classroom environment positive and flowing well.”