By Kodey Toney
Simply The Best
I’ve been told multiple times in my life that God chose me to be the father of a child with autism because he knew I would be good. As I’ve said before I’m not sure that is true or not. What I do know is that it takes a team to raise him. Recently one member of our team was recognized for her diligent work with Konner, and other children.
You see when Konner started first grade we were having some trouble with him staying in a mainstream classroom. He had been through several aides (paraprofessionals) through the years, and while they were good to him, it wasn’t until Mindy Hale began working with him that we found an aide that was good for him. The difference is that some people know how to work with a child with special needs, and some know how to change lives.
Mindy has been a mainstay in Konner’s life and ours. She has made it to where he can be in a mainstream classroom, and we don’t have to worry about whether he’s struggling, or going to have a bad day. Don’t get me wrong, he still has those, but Mindy helps curve them and keep him on track.
Mindy was named the Oklahoma Department of Education’s Staff Educator of the Month for September. My wife had put her name in, not just because of her work with Konner, but her dedication to all students at the school.
The statement she sent in said: “Mindy Hale has changed my son’s life. He has Autism. He struggled from pre-K until the middle of 1st when she began to help. Prior, he was suspended several times because no one understood why he was acting out. He was moved into a special room for half a day. Mindy employed strategies to help him, including a visual schedule, a reward board and duration boxes. She helped him stay in the cafeteria at lunch, which was a problem. He is now in a regular classroom with typical peers. He is above grade level in reading and math. I no longer worry if he will be okay at school thanks to Mindy.”
Konner wasn’t the first student that Mindy to worked with as a paraprofessional. She had worked with Hunter Remy, the daughter of Diana Waldridge, and helped her in so many ways. Hunter has a diagnosis of Cryduchat Syndrome. One of the main things that she did was help Hunter walk across the stage at her kindergarten graduation. This is an event that Waldridge said was, “One of the proudest moments of my life, and Mindy was a great part of making that day come true.”
Of course it wasn’t the act of merely putting one foot in front of the other. It was everything leading up to getting that diploma that Mindy assisted Hunter with achieving.
Diana said, “I just want to say congratulations to Mindy. Also thank you for taking that extra step. Without people like you my daughter wouldn't get to be where she is today. I remember asking Mindy to be Hunter’s aide at head-start because she had been there so much for me with her taking her to therapy at the Kistler Center. I knew then that she had a calling for her in this line of work because she just had a way of being able to handle things with Hunter. I know she‘s just doing her job but she's also doing it with her heart. Thank you so much for being the person you are, and for being a great friend.”
We often forget about the support staff at schools. They blend into the background, work some of the toughest jobs, do the things that most teachers would probably not do, and make a fraction of the pay (that’s saying something when you look at what teachers make).
Mindy is more than just support staff though. She is Konner’s mentor, disciplinarian, focus, strength, calming-stem, guidance counselor, consoler, parent-proxy, educator, friend, and at times savior. She makes it possible for Konner to be as close to the other children as possible. She knows his quirks, which buttons to push, when he’s pushing other people’s buttons, when he’s about to meltdown, when he’s just being a kid, and when he needs time to himself. She makes it possible for the teacher to teach without having to redirect Konner constantly.
When presented with this award, Mindy said, “Thanks! What can I say, I love what I do, and not many people can say that. God has me right where he wants me. Thanks Jen and everyone else. I am really at a loss for words with everything. I just do what I love and helping a child that I work with or any child around is reward enough. I wish I could do more for them.”
I wish all educators had this mentality. Our world would be a much better place.