- Cherry Creek School District No. 5
From the kitchen to the classroom: a paraprofessional’s journey
Peakview Elementary paraprofessional Sandra Blanco first got her start learning how to make pastries and desserts at Johnson and Wales University, but has since found the sweetest reward is building relationships with her students.
After joining Creekside Elementary’s kitchen staff, Blanco found she wanted to work more with students. One student in particular stood out from the rest: a student with special needs. She had encountered him several times when she had been at Peakview Elementary.
“I felt inspired to work with special needs students every time I saw him,” Blanco said. “I wanted to know what made him smile. I knew he loved music and lights but I needed to know more.”
Blanco learned about an opening at Peakview Elementary’s Independent Learning Classroom (ILC) and applied. Four years later, she still loves coming to work every day. She is honored to work with her students, who she says are as quick to offer smiles and hugs as they are to owning their behavior.
“They will be the first to tell on themselves,” Blanco said. “But it is a tough job! I’ve been slapped, punched and kicked but I keep going until I get through to the kids … It’s by far the best job I've ever had and the most important.”
Blanco shared that her work depends on building a healthy relationship and understanding how behavior is a way of communicating, especially for some non-verbal students. She worked with one student who wore a helmet and observed him give a gentle “high-five” with his head to his mother. She realized that was the student’s way of communicating and saying, “I love you.”
“You think about how easily that could be misinterpreted, you think the student is trying to hit you with his head,” Blanco said. “But that was just his way of giving love. He gave me one at his fifth-grade graduation in front of the whole audience and that’s one of my most beautiful memories.”
Blanco says it’s important to be confident in students and show them you believe in them, in addition to understanding what they need and how they communicate. The hardest part of her job is not taking too much home with her.
“I’m always thinking about my kids and how I can help them better,” Blanco said. “I’ve been thinking about going back to school to learn how to work with students with special needs.”
She is grateful for her colleagues in the ILC who she can always rely on, and she’s grateful for her own family. Growing up with a mother from Mexico, Blanco learned about the importance of family and being considerate of others. She says she is a detallista, a Spanish word she uses to say she is attentive to others’ needs.
“My children are the reason I was born,” Blanco said. “My job is to raise them to be the best humans they can be. That’s why I think kindness is so important. If we’re not kind, how will our kids learn to be kind?”