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Q&A: Specialized support team


The support staff provides an essential system of aid and help for students with additional needs or disabilities. The Hoofprint interviewed Kristy Kirkpatrick, Mary Jo Gomez and Haesoo Park about their roles as a Special Education teacher, educational specialist and bilingual aide, respectively.

Kristy Kirkpatrick, Special Education Teacher

Q: Can you tell me more about yourself and describe what your position entails?

A: I am a teacher with students that have moderate disabilities. They are in this class seven periods a day or six, how ever many we have. The disabilities range from Down syndrome, autism and just a variety. These are students that aren’t able to complete the work required to get a diploma, so they get a certificate of completion. I try to do things that you would generally be doing in a general education high school class, but I adapt it for the ability of my students.

Q: How long have you been working in the district?

A: I’ve been here six years. I’ve been teaching for 29.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: We always have a current events morning business where we talk about what’s happening in the day, what’s coming up in the week, we do a little thing on what the news is and talk about that. In the afternoon, it varies. I try to get into more art and music activities or classes. We also do social studies, learning a little history. [The] math section and reading section are each set up so it’s at each students level. A lot of the times in the math section, we are working on things that are more vocational because after high school they may go into a work setting so it might be packaging items or counting out a certain amount of items to go into a package.

Q: What inspired you to pursue this career?

A: When I was in college, I majored in music therapy, and I had to do some internships at different cities around the college and I liked when I had the special education students. So from there, I decided I wanted to teach.

Q: What do you value about your role in these students’ education?

A: Because no matter what a student’s disability, they can learn. In my class, out of the seven kids I have, five of them don’t really speak — we are learning to communicate with an iPad. So if they can’t communicate, then how will anyone know what they think and how smart they can be? I think it’s important they get the chance to show other people what’s in their heads.

Mary Jo Gomez, Educational Specialist

Q: Can you tell me more about yourself and describe what your position entails?

A: I’m an educational specialist. I manage the students on my caseload — I keep tabs on how they’re doing in all of their classes. I test students on my caseload or someone else’s caseload and give them their assessments. I write IEPs, individual educational plans. I meet with teachers [and] provide some resources, services, techniques to help them work best with the students in our program.

Q: How long have you been working in the district?

A: I’ve been here for 34 years as a special education teacher.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: [During] First period I run collaboration, [which is] offered six periods a day for students in our program to come out and take tests in a different testing environment, receiving whatever accommodations allowed on their individual education plan [and] take tests in a different environment to utilize accommodations. Second period is my resource period, [during which I provide] support instruction with students’ current coursework. [Being] a resource specialist is technically my job. [During] third period, I’m the directed studies teacher where students come in everyday [and] structural aids and myself assist students with any homework they need help on. [During] fourth and fifth period, I teach introduction to algebra to students in our program.

Q: What inspired you to pursue this career?

A: I love working with students, and I wanted to try and make a difference for students that learning can come very difficult to. Our kids are very capable; sometimes, they just need extra support to understand a concept, so we hope to be that support.

Q: What do you value about your role in these students’ education?

A: It’s a really rewarding process. [We] get to know [our students] and their families very well. It’s wonderful to see their success as an incoming freshman and later walking across the stage to see how much they have accomplished. It’s wonderful how we’re able to work together as one team.

Haesoo Park, Bilingual Aide

Q: Can you tell me more about yourself and describe what your position entails?

A: My position is to help the English Language Development (ELD) sheltered students with language so if they have trouble with their work or if they have any questions, I’m there to help them. I’m Korean, but they have more Chinese students here, [so we assist] in English. I wanted a job, so I can help even the Korean parents in the community with English, [translations or interpretations]. I also do interpretation for parents at parent conferences.

Q: How long have you been working in the district?

A: For 23 years, [all] at the same school.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: I visit four classes. I visit two English classes, one world history and one biology. I help the students plus I help the teacher. Right now, it’s not ELD classes. It used to be sheltered, but now they put the sheltered and the regular kids together. I follow classes with more shelter kids.

Q: What inspired you to pursue this career?

A: Actually, this position is just a part-time job. I just started off volunteering at church with the children, with the kids, and then I just applied for it.

Q: What do you value about your role in these students’ education?

A: I just love working with the students. I always come in happy, and I like to make the kids comfortable; the second language students need someone to be on their side. I was born in Korea, [and] I immigrated here when I was young, but the transition was still difficult. If I’m there, maybe they’re a little more comfortable.

Compiled by Milo Santiago, Staff writer
Photo by Mia Nam



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