Beth Heiser has worked as a paraprofessional in the Helena school district for over 20 years. Now she is being honored as the Helena Education Association's Para Educator of the Year.
Heiser started her career in 1997 as a special education paraprofessional in Helena. Over the next few years she worked at Smith Elementary School and Warren Elementary School in different para roles. She then transferred to Helena High School where she spent 10 years as a one-on-one para. After that, Heiser was transferred to Broadwater Elementary School to work with a visually impaired student, this was when she became a certified Braille instructor.
A paraprofessional is a teaching-related position within schools. They usually have some kind of specialization such as working with special needs individuals or young children in preschool or kindergarten. They work in and can travel to numerous classrooms in a single day.
"I worked with this student until she graduated from CHS last year," Heiser said. "This year I have been working at Smith, Ray Bjork, Four Georgians Elementary School and Capital High School providing braille instruction to several visually impaired students."
Smith spends about one hour at each of the schools every day before heading to Capital and spending just over a half-day there.
"I felt a little overwhelmed but so appreciative of my co-workers for the honor," said Heiser, when asked how she reacted to the news. "At the same time, I work with several amazing paras who are so deserving of this honor. I wouldn't be who I am without their amazing work ethics and friendship."
Heiser has a heart for special education and is partial to those issues. She said the students she works with are wonderful and fun to be around.
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"My wish is that the federal government would provide adequate funding for special education programs so that we could provide the best curriculum, education and experiences possible for these students," Heiser said.
Brett Zanto, Capital High School's principal, expressed admiration for Heiser. He praised her for her positive attitude and willingness to help out wherever she is needed.
"Beth is a tremendous asset to Capital High as well as her district with all of the students she works with," Zanto said. "She is so knowledgeable, trustworthy and you can depend on her in a wide variety of situations."
Zanto noted that Heiser's contributions extend well beyond Capital High and to the district as a whole.
Heiser said she hopes that she makes a positive impact on her students and their lives. Her goal is to be an encouragement to both her co-workers and students.
"I try to give them my best effort so they can be successful," Heiser said. "I hope that the students know how much I care about them, even when things aren't necessarily fun, when they are struggling."