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 The awesome Parapro Team at CentralToday, on the occasion of Paraprofessional Appreciation Day, we take a moment to honor the critical and essential work of our parapros: those dedicated and selfless men and women who have dedicated their lives to our special needs students and providing for their safety and educational growth.

During its most recent meeting, the D60 Board of Education adopted a resolution honoring the efforts of our parapros, praising them for serving students with “great skill, care, compassion, humor and sensitivity.”

For Central’s Darrion Hatchett, special needs students have served as the center of his life throughout his working career.

Mr. Hatchett, an ESS educator at Central, began his career as a parapro while attending college. That experience revealed that his pursuit of an ESS teaching credential was the path he was meant to follow.

“I knew my goal was to do anything with kids with special needs,” Mr. Hatchett said. “I’ve been volunteering with the Special Olympics since I was 16, so I always knew that was my thing. And I wanted to come back to Central, because I feel it has one of the best ESS teams in Pueblo. 

“I was excited to be part of that and to continue to be part of that.”

At Central, Mr. Hatchett oversees a diverse team of parapros who have come together from a variety of careers, including retail, steel-making and coaching, with a common goal in mind.

Like Mr. Hatchett, they share a deep passion for special needs students and making their high school experience as rich, full and rewarding as possible.

“It’s all about creating that relationship with students,” Mr. Hatchett said. “That way, they feel welcomed and will continue to work and grow. Whatever I ask of my parapros, they do without question.”

After 15 years with Walmart, Erica Ryan became a parapro “because I love helping the students learn. Sometimes, some of the assignments aren’t so easy for them, so I like to break it down for them so they can get good grades.

“That’s the greatest reward of the job: helping them get good grades and making them feel a part of the team,” she said.

With the arrival of Unified Bowling and Basketball, ESS students now have the opportunity to revel in the camaraderie and competitiveness that come with sanctioned varsity sports.

“Unified Sports really makes the kids feel like they belong, and that they can be a part of something outside of school,” Mr. Hatchett said. “And these athletes have really come a long way.” Gil Herrera helps a student compete in Unified Bowling

After more than a decade at El Pueblo: An Adolescent Treatment Center, Gil Herrera transitioned into parapro work at Central. Through classroom support and his involvement in Unified Sports, Mr. Herrera enjoys witnessing the growth and development of the students under his watch.

“Before Unified Sports, a lot of the kids would be silent in the classroom, not talking to each other,” he said. “Now, we have kids using Unified Sports to ask each other out to prom and other activities. 

“It’s really brought them out of their shell.”

After working in auto sales, coaching and at the steel mill, Rudy Calderon said his love of children drew him into the parapro field.

“My students deserve to have the opportunity to do all the things the other kids do and get a good education,” Mr. Calderon said, adding that his work as a parapro “is the most rewarding thing I have done. Being able to be there with the kids, and seeing the happy looks on their faces when they finish their homework, or play sports, is so satisfying for me.”

Shanna Rittgers is a one-on-one parapro, working exclusively with Reese Volk.

“So instead of working in classrooms, I take care of him all day,” Mrs. Rittgers said. “So we do whatever keeps him happy and makes it easy for him to learn best.

“For me, the most rewarding part is the fact that the kids are always happy.”

Reese is actively involved in both Unified Bowling and Basketball, something Mrs. Rittgers said has enriched his life.

“He looks forward to that,” she said. “He loves going to practices to see his friends and we always talk about sports.”

A 13-year parapro, Carol Dalby said the position requires “patience and empathy as well as a willingness to challenge the students to learn new things. The rewards are many: you get to see the growth, the socializing they do, and just how confident they become when they learn a new task.”

After coaching girls basketball at Central, Dominique Campos accepted a parapro position at her alma mater.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “I help the kids with schoolwork and everyday activities. The best part is the relationships I’ve built with the kids and my coworkers.”

In addition to serving as a parapro, Dominique is attending college on a part-time basis, studying behavioral health.

“I want to work with people with disabilities,” she said.

Like Dominique, Mike Ranson is a Wildcat now back to serve the next generation of the Orman Army.

“I just graduated from college so I’ve been a parapro for about two months now,” he said. “I love the work and I love being at Central. For me, it’s about helping kids with their work in order to keep their grades up.” 

As far as Mr. Hatchett is concerned, his parapro team is truly worthy of recognition and appreciation not only today but year-round.

“They’re always willing to do whatever is necessary for the kids,” he said. “Like me, they are in the best line of work. You know when something is right and working with these kids is definitely right. 

“It’s something that comes once in a lifetime.”