Education assistants make up a small fraction of the ETFO membership. But the impact they have in the classroom can be substantial.
Lorie Kuzyk is a good example. Kuzyk, a member of the Rainy River Education Support Personnel Local of ETFO, has been working in the classroom for almost 20 years. Currently she works with grade 9 to 12 students in the basic and college streams at Rainy River High School. She also leads the Later Literacy program, which involves 2,000 minutes of one-on-one time with each student.
Kuzyk's contributions were recognized this spring when she was one of 20 Ontario educators who received the Premier's Award for Excellence in Education. For many, Kuzyk is the starting point of a cycle of success. "Without support they wouldn't read:' Kuzyk says. "They'd feel lost and frustrated." The students have a range of learning difficulties in reading and writing. In addition to working one on one, she leads literacy circles, and works on students' writing skills. She reads novels aloud and facilitates shared reading.
“Most, if they can hear the material orally, are able to do the work,” Kuzyk says. “As their reading gets better, their frustration leaves and their confidence builds. It creates an
‘I can do this’ feeling that makes them want to do more.” The increased confidence and self-esteem Kuzyk strives to build helps her students to become more independent learners.
Kuzyk also emphasizes peer support. Students who help each other grow to respect and help one another. The student who needs help today becomes the one providing help to someone else later on.
Kuzyk herself liked school “for the sports and the social life.” On graduating from grade 12 she became a hairdresser and soon owned her own shop. When she had her third child she decided to leave the business and become a stay-at-home mom. “That lasted two months,” she says. She returned to working outside the home when she became employed by the high school as a communication and classroom assistant. She is also teaching cosmetology under a letter of permission.
Kuzyk credits the two and a half years she spent in elementary schools and the teachers she worked with there with increasing her understanding of special needs students, and with developing her patience with them. “The teachers were wonderful. I learned a lot from them. I learned to understand why kids were the way they were.”
In addition to her work in the classroom, Kuzyk takes an active part in extracurricular activities. She goes with students on field trips – such as theatre trips to Winnipeg – and is involved with fundraising for Prom, Drama, and Grad Days by organizing teas and raffles. Each year, she helps with sewing costumes and making props for the drama production, and does hair and make-up. She also gives personal help to students who are struggling financially and academically.
Receiving the Premier's Award for Excellence in Education did for Kuzyk what she regularly does for students: it revitalized her. “Listening and interacting with other people and how they support their students gets you going again. I feel now there’s more I can do. It kindled a spark.