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Beckie Squires, 2006 Montana Education Support Professional of the Year

 

When Beckie Squires first entered the classroom at Helena’s C.R. Anderson Middle School 12 years ago, her title was simply “teacher’s aide.”

 

She received little guidance as to what her duties were. But with help from other educators, she said, “I soon hit the ground running. Little did I know that my life would evolve as it has.”

 

Through years of hard work, Squires and her peers are now called “paraeducators” – a title that more accurately reflects the essential role they play in children’s education.

 

In honor of Squires’s work for children and education support professionals, Squires recently was named as Montana’s 2007 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year.

 

Squires works with special needs children at C.R. Anderson. She works one-on-one with students, helping classroom teachers meet their individual learning goals.

 

“Beckie has had a very profound impact on hundreds of middle school students,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Helena Paraeducators Association.

 

“Beckie sees her vocation as much more than simply educating her special needs students. She believes that for them to succeed in school they need personal support, nurturing, guidance, and most often, an understanding ear.”

 

As a result, said Lewis, most of Squires’s students have successfully navigated the transition to high school, postsecondary education, and careers.

 

In 2003, Squires attended the American Federation of Teachers Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) institute in Baltimore, MD to learn more about reading comprehension and instructional strategies.

 

Lewis, who nominated Squires for the ESP of the Year award, said, “Her instructors were so impressed that they asked her to serve as a national trainer.”

 

Since then, Squires has taught reading comprehension at the local, state, and national levels to both teachers and paraeducators.

 

As a result of her experience and success, Squires was asked to serve as one of the founding trainers of the nationally recognized and award-winning MEA-MFT PASS program. In this capacity, Squires has helped over 200 Montana paraeducators meet No Child Left Behind qualification standards.

 

Last year, the National Education Association (NEA) asked Squires to give a presentation on the PASS program at the NEA Pacific Regional meeting in Honolulu, HI.

 

Squires has been a key part of the many victories Helena paraeducators have won in recent years. She helped organize a union for paraeducators. She persuaded the school district to give paraeducators access to e-mail and computers so they could communicate with parents and gain access to online educational resources.

 

“My strong belief that we are a vital link between teachers and students has led me to advocate for more respect as educators and compensation that reflects the importance of our jobs,” Squires said.

 

This year, Squires helped bargain a salary schedule that recognizes professional training, coursework, and expertise. For the first time, paraeducators now have an incentive to advance their skills.

 

“Thanks to this agreement, in the eyes of parents, students, teachers, and administrators, Helena paraeducators will be seen as full and equal members of our leaning community, striving for self-improvement and enhanced student success,” said Lewis.

 

“Paraeducators are a valuable resource in our district,” wrote teachers Colleen Kaste and Karen Rillahan. “Beckie has taken the job to a new and more professional level.”

 

MEA-MFT, the state association for Montana educators and public employees, seeks nominations statewide for Montana Education Support Professional of the Year. Anyone may nominate. A selection committee makes the final selection.

 

Beckie Squires will now represent Montana in the NEA’s National Education Support Professional of the Year event.