Taking time to honor those working behind the front lines

Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C recognizes its support staff

During the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, support staff at Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C helped students, families and other staff members in a variety of ways, according to news releases from the school district.

Marc Solodky, coordinator of student and family Services for Troy Community School District 30-C, said school social workers are trained mental health professionals. They’re able to address anxiety and feelings of isolation with students, families and teachers, a release said.

They can also identify and help students work through any academic, behavioral, emotional and social issues that might interfere with learning, the release said.

“Many of our kids are in families that are overwhelmed and facing some real life obstacles,” Solodky said in the news release said, “and these workers are one of our first lines of connection and support for them. Sometimes our families identify these problems at home, and other times, they might be getting contacts from a teacher. They might not be sure of why a particular problem is happening, and they want to talk through it.”

In addition, social workers have resources to ensure families can obtain food, clothing, dental and medical care and mental health assistance, Solodky said in the release. Social workers can assist families with crisis intervention, conflict resolution and anger management, even referring them to resource in the community, he added.

Troy Cronin Elementary School social worker Josefa Lopez said social workers and counselors have diverse training and skills, which can “build resilience in our students by helping them regulate their emotions and develop appropriate coping skills during this difficult time,” she said in the release.

William B.Orenic Intermediate School social worker Erika Keen said she and her coworkers have even scheduled virtual meetings and occasional home visits to help meet the needs of students and families.

Resources and reading

Troy Learning Resource Facilitator Barb Miller said that, with students using their computers so much this year, the learning resource center associates, made more material available online and guided students in using it.

School library associates also suggested good supplemental material and good books to read, the release said.

“Information that students can access over the web is like an information tsunami,” Miller said in the release “It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for adults. It’s important for us to teach them to discern what they’re reading.”

Troy Cronin Elementary School library associate Jill Scarcelli agreed.

“All year long,” she said in the release, “we work to find books they enjoy.”

Troy library associates created their own online classrooms where students could pop in to enjoy stories and other activities to help foster a love of reading, the release said.

Troy Hofer Elementary School library associate Chrissy Simmons said she made remote reading times even more fun by dressing up and wearing wigs to make her characters seem real.

“During COVID,” Simmons said in the release, “we did the best we could to engage with them. We learned a lot more about technology, too. But we did really miss the interaction with the kids.”

Learning resource center associates at Troy’s seven schools are Jolene Chamblee, Kelly DeRocco. Joyce Forlenzo, Gina Rolando, Jill Scarcelli, Chrissy Simmons, Tracy Voels and Jayne Worden.

‘Bridging gaps in education’

Troy has interventionist teaching assistants, special education teaching assistants, and Merit teaching assistants, according to Kristin Johnson, Troy assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessments.

These teaching assistants focus on reading and math interventions and support in special education classrooms, while the focus of Merit teaching assistants is on reading interventions. They work with students either one-on-one or in small groups, the release said.

Gina Schalk, a teaching assistant for 18 years, with 13 of those serving Troy Hofer Elementary School, has worked said in a release that each child learns at a “different pace” and that she enjoys “helping bridge those gaps in education.”

She has worked English language learners the last two years and helped one student, who spoke no English, to learn the language and then make friends.

Karen Speckman, who has worked at Troy for 20 years, first as a substitute teacher, and then as a Merit teaching assistant at Troy Heritage Trail Elementary School, retired at the end of the school year.

But Speckman said that teaching assistants are “vital for the students and for the teachers.”

“I enjoyed the opportunities to help students grow,” Speckman said in the release, “and also to help them find their way and to help the whole child.”

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.