Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Shaquanda Thomas grew up in Ypsilanti, the daughter of Nolen Thomas and Shirley Love, and granddaughter of Cora A. Woods, who helped raise her. Thomas attended Ypsilanti Public Schools K-12, where she played basketball and ran track. Later in life, she earned her associate’s degree in business administration technology from Washtenaw Community College.
While Thomas was attending college, she worked full time and raised three children, Quandre, Quanisha and Dwayne Jr., who were in grade school, middle school, and high school.
Her hobbies are whatever sports her children are interested in, as she’s their Number One cheerleader. She finds “me time” at the gym.
Thomas was nominated by Bryant co-principals Shelley Bruder and Kathy Morhous, who wrote: “Shaquanda is an outstanding person and teacher assistant. She willingly helps wherever and whenever assistance is needed to meet the needs of students. Shaquanda always has a smile on her face and her positive attitude is contagious at Bryant. We all appreciate her!”
Describe an average workday. Being a paraprofessional, you are scheduled to work bell-to-bell. But I do a little bit more. I work the breakfast program every morning, where I supervise more than 50 students, making sure they have activities and that they’re eating their breakfast and staying in the Multipurpose Room until the bell rings. Then once the bell rings, I transition a student of mine to the resource room and then I go to the office where I also help with a diabetic student. Then I go to my classroom and greet my classroom teacher and students and look through their homework folder. At this time the teacher is going over the morning smart work and now I’m going to the resource room to transition my student back to the classroom.
For the rest of the day, I follow the class schedule and assist in the classroom as needed with certain students. I assist in all special areas, lunchtime and outside for recess. During the day I keep track of how my student if progressing, and transition my student to services and back to the classroom, with sensory breaks. At the end of the day, I take the student to parent pick-up.
But my day doesn’t end there. I also do after-school child care at Bryant. I help supervise 35-plus students in the after-school childcare. We make sure every student on the attendance sheet is accounted for. Once that is done, the student then can have a healthy snack. Then we have an activity for them to do, and then go outside or in the gym.
So as you see, my day is not bell-to-bell, but breakfast-to-dinner.
Teachers usually say they take the job home with them. Do you? No, but sometimes I might sit back and think of something one of my students did or said that might have been funny or even cute at the moment. And it’ll put a smile on my face.
Can you recall one of those funny things a student said? One day a student was scheduled to go to reading services with his group, but the teacher was late and we were getting dressed to go outside as a class. When Mrs. H. walked in and called the student’s name, he said, “This is the worst timing! We are going outside.” She said, “Your reading is important, too.” So he went with her, but he was not happy. Then later that day he was scheduled to go to the resource room and the resource teacher was in a meeting so she was running behind schedule and once again we were getting dressed to go outside. The classroom door opened up and it was the resource room teacher, who called out his name. When he hid under the desk, she said, “I’m sorry, but it’s time for you to come in the resource room.” He came out from under the desk and said, “This is the worst day ever! This will be the second time I miss recess. I can’t go with you right now. I will go with you after we come back in from recess.” She said, “OK. That sounds good to me.”
Describe your career path at AAPS: I have been a paraprofessional for four school years. I started as a part-time noon hour staff at Pattengill I was there for two years before I came to Bryant as a noon hour staff in the lunchroom. I also became the lunchroom coordinator at Bryant. In the summer of 2013, I started working the summer school program where my job title was paraprofessional. I thought to myself, ‘This could be hard.’ But by the end of the day, it was OK. I really like working with the students and I felt this is what I need to be doing. I enjoy helping the students learn and build their confidence. After three years of doing noon hour and coordination in the lunchroom, I decided it was time for me to start subbing as a paraprofessional. This is when I got a real feeling for what it’s like being a paraprofessional. Then I started to go on interviews, and that’s how a landed the paraprofessional job at Bryant.
What have you learned from Bryant teachers? As they say: It takes a village to raise a kid. I have learned a lot from a host of wonderful teachers and staffs at Bryant. I learned that each student learns differently and receives directions differently. That you have to be loving but firm and have patience. Also be quick on your feet. I’m very passionate about my job and students. I care about their education, their way of understanding, feeling about self and others. Making sure they feel safe at school, and teaching them to be independent.
When you tell people you’re a paraprofessional, do they have any idea what that means? No. Then I say TA (teacher’s assistant) and they might know. I let them know that I assist the teacher in the classroom and that I might have several students that might need a little more attention than others.
Favorite websites: My favorite websites are Pinterest and CNN. At Pinterest, I get information about crafts, healthy food, workouts, etc. CNN keeps me in the loop with the world news.
The best part of your workday? The best part of my workday is knowing that when I walk into this building I’m going to help a student by learning and understanding his or her needs at that moment. Also, anywhere I go in the building students know my name, run up to me and give me a hug. So I can put a smile on their face just like they can put one on mine.
Two favorite devices: My cell phone, because it has all my contacts, pictures and emails. Also, my IPad, because this is the way I can see my oldest son, who lives out-of-state, on FaceTime.
How do you stay organized? I stay organized by keeping my items in folders, or even on my UBS. By being organized it keeps my stress level down because I know where everything is when I need it. I’m able to stay focused and stay on track with my student with his or her paperwork.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? Knowing that the students you are working with are succeeding in the goals to move onto the next level.
How do you recharge? By sleeping, working out, and being around family and friends. Enjoying myself, not thinking about work, kicking back and laughing help me recharge.
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Being honored in this way for the hard work that I do. Knowing that there is someone out that who is watching and caring about the time, work and the patience that I put into these students really does matter.
And your personal life? In my personal life, I remember being on the dean’s list, and that was amazing. Also, knowing that I have raised three wonderful, smart, outgoing children. I have two in college and one is a junior in high school. As a single mother of three, I’m proud of them and I know that they are proud of their mother.