For the 80 or so educational support personal the jobs they do daily are “challenging and essential,” said Lillian Colello, who works at the Durbin Avenue School where she helps multiple handicapped children.
“I came to learn to appreciate how hard they have to work just to learn how to feed themselves or to use their communication device to indicate a simple want,” Colello said. “I have also rejoiced with them on each accomplishment they achieved. This to me is a great reward for me; when accomplish their goal then I fell I have accomplished one of my goals as well.”
Colello was one of five aides named as their school’s top ESP. She was also named the district’s top aide.
Others are: Betty Helminger, Hudson Maxim School; Joan Cutchis, Tulsa Trail; Andrew Nigel, Hopatcong Middle School; and Kimberly Mott, Hopatcong High School.
A three-year contract fight with the Board of Education eroded the aides’ self-esteem, feelings which erupted in a public meeting in December that had the school board fending off charges that the members “disrespected” the aides.
At that time, board president Clifford Lundin assured the aides that board appreciated the work they do, and said the dispute was contractual, not personal.
This week the board announced that it has accepted the findings of a state mediator, which should soon bring the contract negotiations to a close.
Susan Hill, president of the Hopatcong Education Association, the teacher’s union, praised the work of the aides.
“Our ESPs are not merely those who make copies for teachers - far from it,” she said.” “They work closely with the children, either as a group or individually. The students have a variety of needs, and I believe that some of them are able to stay in the local schools because of all the ESPs have to offer.”
Much of the work the aides do is centered on the district’s special needs population, Hill said.
“They work in a regular education class that also has students with special needs. They work with those students with needs while ensuring that they do not ‘stand out.’ This enables the kids to learn in the mainstream with their peers,” Hill said.
With a special needs population of 26 percent, Hill said the district couldn't function without them.
“Students would not be afforded the opportunities to be educated with their peers. That might have been acceptable in the 50's and 60's, but times have changed - and aids are essential to education of students with special needs,” Hill said.
Colello has been an aide since 1984, completing 28 years in the district.
She has worked with children who had a variety of learning disabilities such as autism, dyslexia, Downs Syndrome, as well as physical handicaps.
“What attracted me to do the job that I love so much is my love for children, all children which is the best thing about the job as well. I got the opportunity when my own child was in the preschool handicapped program many years ago,” she said.
She moved to Hopatcong in 1976 and has been married for 41 years. She has four children who attended Hopatcong schools, and nine grandchildren.
“I took on the challenge and have been here ever since. It’s truly a joy coming to work every day,” Collelo said.
Mott is a Hopatcong High graduate and has worked in the district for more than seven years. This is her first year at the high school, after a year at Hudson Maxim and six years at the middle school. She is a personal aide.
“I was attracted to this position after many years in retail because of my love for children,” Mott said. “The best of my job is the unconditional love you get from the kids in the classroom ... they don't care if you are young or old or skinny or heavy and because of that, they will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Mott has been married for 16 years and has a sophomore and eighth grader in Hopatcong schools.
Cutchis has been an aide for five years. She started as a substitute aid and is nor a personal aide a Tulsa Trail, where she works one-on-one with a student with special needs, and assists the classroom teacher.
“I implement special strategies for the student to succeed, providing a positive and effective way to get the child through the school day,” she said. “This job can be very rewarding as well as quite challenging. I take satisfaction in seeing a child with special needs succeed. It could be something small like making the student smile, answering a simple math question correctly, or help the child to verbally express himself.”
She is married with two children, a 15-year-old son, and an 18-year-old daughter with autism.
Cutchis said she has attended seminars and behavioral intervention classes to better understand her daughter’s needs and deal with her behavior.
“This knowledge led me towards the ESP field. I also felt that the experience of raising a handicapped child made me a perfect candidate to become an ESP to help other children with special needs," Cutchis said.