As the Board of Selectman and Finance Committee ponder the elimination of approximately 63 instructional assistants in our schools, I want to tell how that impacts my school, where I work as an instructional assistant.
This proposal will either eliminate or devastate our Great Leaps Reading support program and our before-school math support program. Both programs target children who are not special needs, but who are struggling in math or reading for whatever reasons — confidence, attention issues, English as a second language, etc. Cutbacks will also decimate the differentiated reading level program we have in grades 1 and 2 for all students who are not special needs.
In addition, we provide support to those children who struggle with the social skills, not only in the classroom but particularly the playground by helping them interact with others and express their frustrations in more positive ways. We are there on the playground not only to ensure that our children play safely, but to ensure our children’s safety from strangers. We are all part of the team in our school’s Crisis Plan. Whether it is a fire drill making sure all the children are out safely or God forbid a “shelter in place” or total evacuation of the building; we are there assisting over 300 students ranging in ages 3 1/2 to 8 years.
As a member of the team of educators at my school, instructional assistants fill the gaps when and where they are needed. I have touched on only a few areas that will be impacted. However, the most impact will be to our most vulnerable, the children.
On a more personal note, I want to say that as a parent of a special-needs student who just graduated with his diploma from Andover last year, it never would have happened if not for the support and dedication of his instructional assistants. They not only helped him but provided me information regarding his studies and home assignments. They were paramount to his success.
Mary Jo Gustus