ESSEX JUNCTION, Vermont (WCAX) – Schools in Vermont face many challenges this fall, from a shortage of substitutes to a shortage of bus drivers. As part of our ongoing series on High Demand Jobs, Our Kayla Martin takes us to a local high school to see what a support staff shortage looks like and how it could have a long-term impact on students.
“We go to English 10 taught by Owen Sharon. I’m in the classroom every day helping six students, ”said Jill Shumway, regular teaching assistant at Essex High School. She says she helps the teacher manage students with individual learning plans. “I would say this year I have the most students I have ever had. I have 32 students on my list that I support.
Shumway says the number of students she supports has tripled since she started working at the school 13 years ago. “We are understaffed, very few people. We lost six regular teaching assistants, seven one-on-one. So we are all doubling, ”she said. And it’s been one of his toughest years yet, but … “It makes the day pass.”
She says it’s been a challenge getting the students back to the nitty-gritty after learning for much of the past year and a half.
Director of Student Support Services Michael Woods said they had struggled to find support staff before the pandemic, even with the strong pool of retired teachers serving as replacements and nurses . Now, he says there is a lot of apprehension about being in the building, especially for older people at increased risk of complications from COVID. “So that coupled with the intense scarcity, it’s kind of like the perfect storm,” he said.
And finding a blanket is like playing chess. “Sometimes we take staff from other programs to cover an absence which is a greater need and we really have to play as we go each day,” said Santina Leporati, an administrative assistant in Student Support Services.
Woods says the program with the highest staffing issues is ExCEL, which caters to students with special needs. “They are usually students with quite intensive handicaps, physical handicaps, complex medical situations,” he said.
These students would usually have one-on-one help, but this position is only half filled by staff, so students are split into groups instead of being able to go to their regular classrooms. For security reasons, they cannot go alone. Not being able to build independence is something that Woods says could have long-term impacts. “It’s one of the things that keeps me awake at night, to be honest,” he said.
Like most other schools, Woods says they’ve worked hard to get more staff at the gate. “We tried to rename the positions to maybe attract young people who want to get into nursing,” he said. “I think we offer competitive salaries and great benefits, but the schedule itself may not be able to compete with some of the other industries with all the other jobs available today.” He says the salary ranges from $ 17 to $ 22 an hour to start.
Josh Langevin is a new recruit at ExCEL. He started about a month ago after working a decade for the Howard Center. He admits the job is tough. “Some days it’s just constant and you feel like you’re not going anywhere, you know. And then there are other days – the next day is completely different, the behaviors are great, ”he said.
The work can be difficult, but some of the perks are playing in the middle of the day with the students during a break. A big plus is free time, including winter and spring holidays, and long holiday weekends. And staff can choose to work year round or take vacations in the summer.
Ultimately, Shumway and Langevin say it’s a very rewarding job. “That bulb moment and they got it,” Shumway said. “That’s what I live for.”
“Oh, super rewarding,” Langevin added.
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