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SpEd Spotlight: Strawberry Park Elementary has a ‘Dream Team’ of paraprofessionals

SpEd Spotlight: Strawberry Park Elementary has a ‘Dream Team’ of paraprofessionals

Within the halls of Strawberry Park Elementary School are three full-time paraprofessionals with individual passion for their jobs and collective compassion to do their best each day for all their students.

According to Catherine Stewart, a special education teacher at Strawberry Park, Jill Rowan, Kenda Thvedt and Mitch Jenson make up the “Dream Team” of paraprofessionals at Strawberry Park. The trio works with first through fifth graders and provides basic instruction, either individually or in small groups, on reading, writing, math and other education-related activities as assigned by teachers’ directions.

According to Rowan, the three paras have a great connection because they are on the same page. They often have meetings to share what works best with each student. Working together through COVID, they have learned to communicate effectively. Stewart, the trio’s supervisor, has created an environment that makes them feel comfortable and safe to talk about things.

“We are willing to do whatever it takes to do what is best for the kids,” Rowan said. 

Rowan has been in Steamboat since 2012 and moved to the area from Nashville. Rowan homeschooled her four boys before coming to Steamboat. After moving here, she wanted her sons and herself to be a part of Steamboat’s schools.

One of her sons needed extra help, and she was nervous about putting him in a new school and being new to the area. When she dropped him off, the teacher made her feel comfortable and good about dropping her son off. That feeling of reassurance and comfort eventually led her to become a paraprofessional. She wanted other parents to feel like she did when she first dropped her son off at school. 

“I want parents to go on about their day knowing that someone is there for their kids,” said Rowan. 

Rowan has been a paraprofessional for 10 years. Her favorite part of her job is helping families navigate sending their children to school. She also loves to see kids accomplish something they set out to do. 

“When they are so proud of themselves, it makes it worthwhile,” Rowan said. “You know you were a part of helping them grow academically and personally.” 

Thvedt has lived in Steamboat for 20 years and is in her fourth year as a paraprofessional at Strawberry Park. Before becoming a paraprofessional, she was a stay-at-home mom and spent a lot of time volunteering in the community. After her kids graduated, she missed being in the schools. It was Rowan who encouraged her to continue working in the schools as a paraprofessional. 

Thvedt’s favorite part is working with the classroom teachers and coming together as a team. She enjoys helping students with projects or encouraging them to get up and present something to the class they are proud of. 

“It’s really special when they are particularly proud of themselves,” said Thvedt. 

Jenson has lived in Steamboat Springs for five years and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He moved to the Yampa Valley for college in 2016. While working at a golf course in 2020, a coworker mentioned there was a paraprofessional position open.

After his first year as a paraprofessional, he could see the difference he was making for his students and wanted to keep going. He is now in his third year as a paraprofessional and sees it as a great way to develop work experience and improve communication skills. 

“When they feel accomplished with their school work, I know I am doing my job well,” said Jenson. “Every day is a new challenge, but watching the kids go down the right track and develop good habits is my favorite part about being a paraprofessional.”

According to Stewart, all three of them bring something special to the table. Jenson always has a smile on his face and is really good at communicating and working through problems with students. Thvedt has a positive attitude, makes excellent connections with the students, and has great communication skills. Rowan has enthusiasm and brings a sense of teamwork. She is good at bringing together teams and celebrates others often.

“All of them have been so dedicated and shown such patience and professionalism,” said Stewart. “I am super grateful for them; we couldn’t do it without them.”