Q&A WITH PARAPROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR

Michele Bridge has served in several schools in the Appoquinimink School District over the past five years, but wherever she has gone, she’s surely left a mark.

“What I came to realize was that, no matter where I was, no matter what children I was assigned to, I truly loved what I was doing,” Bridge said.

Last month, the district chose Bridge as its top paraprofessional – the highest honor for someone who works assisting teachers in the classroom.

The Transcript asked Bridge more about her life, her work and her plans for the future.

Q Tell our readers a little bit about you.

A I’m a native Delawarean, having lived in New Castle most of my life. I attended school in the Colonial School District and graduated from William Penn in 1981. It was there, in the Colonial schools, where I was fortunate enough to be taught by amazing teachers who inspired my love for teaching and helping others. I went on to attend the University of Delaware, receiving degrees in elementary and special education with an emphasis on teaching the hearing impaired. I spent as much time as I could during my college years substituting or volunteering at the Sterck School for the Hearing Impaired, now the Delaware School for the Deaf. I married my husband, Don, a short time after college, and have a son and daughter.

Q Tell our readers about how you started working in the Appoquinimink School District.

A Upon graduating, I came full circle and taught at the elementary level in the Colonial district. After five years, I left teaching to raise my children. Once my daughter started school, I knew I wanted to get back in the classroom. I worked part-time for a small private Title I company, teaching reading and math within the private schools then transitioned to a full-time paraprofessional in the Appoquinimink School District. This school year marks my fifth year as a paraprofessional. During this time, I have worked in six different schools. Although changing schools hasn’t been easy, I came to realize that no matter where I was or what children I was working with, I absolutely loved what I was doing. I was able to face new challenges each school year and knew that, somehow, I was where I was supposed to be.

Q How do you feel about being chosen Paraprofessional of the Year?

A I’m truly humbled by being awarded Paraprofessional of the Year, and I almost didn’t accept the nomination. I was convinced by another para to give it a shot and thought that if someone thought highly enough to nominate me, then I must be doing something right! I did not think that what I was doing was any more than the other amazing paras in the district. While I was hesitant at first, I came to realize that my passion and love for my job must surely show through my day to day actions with the kids. I approach each new challenge very seriously and sometimes, too personally. I treat the students in my care the way I would want someone to have treated my own son who has Aspergers Syndrome. I try to address my student’s physical and sensory needs first and then all areas are able to fall in line.

Q What are your plans for the future after this recognition?

A I must admit, I am not used to all the attention that receiving this award has brought me. My friends, and their friends, have blown up my Facebook page with their kind words and I have even received emails from other paras throughout the district. It has been an amazing experience so far which is why I have no plans to stop doing what I love. I have often referred to paraprofessionals as “superheroes.” We are not, “just a para.” We perform duties in the classroom that we never thought we would. We develop trusting relationships with our students and push them just far enough out of their comfort zone in order for them to grow. I was asked, “How do we, as paras, get the word out on what we do?” Ask us! With pride in our hearts, we will gladly tell you about “our kids”!