A GROUP OF Paraprofessionals at Tracy Area Public Schools took time out of their busy day last Thursday to pose for a group photo and send a message to the student. Pictured are, front, from left: Nikki Phelps, Jenny Towne, Sheila Fultz, Karen Ziemke, Stacie Buysse, Cheryl Bitker, Lori Erbes, Jess VanDam, Tiffany Molitor. Back, from left: Donna Caron, Linda Engelkes, Lori Koch, May Thor, Amber Sundahl, Sarah Macho, Jess Swenhaugen, Missie Erbes, Marla Anderson, Alva Maeyaert, Wanda Apperson, Shana Jackson. Not pictured: Stacy Stefanick, Kayla Mercie, Betsy Schmidt, Hilary Sanders, Sherman Yang, Mary Sweetman, John Glaser, Teresa Goettig. Photo / Per Peterson

Talk about multi-tasking: Tracy Area Public Schools’ paraprofessionals are doing it all during school shutdown

There are 30 paraprofessionals who work at Tracy Area Public Schools, and not a single one of them were prepared for this.

The state-mandated shutdown of all schools in Minnesota has not only meant a new world of learning for 671 public school students, it has also resulted in a whole new way of teaching.

And as challenging as it has been for teachers to develop a distance learning plan, it’s been equally difficult for the 30 paraprofessionals who work so closely, and personally, with the children.

“It’s been heartbreaking,” said Stacie Buysse, a para at TAPS for the last 13 years. “These kids — we need them as much as they need us. We have cried multiple times a day.”

Indeed, the shuttering of the school doors has hit paras on an intensely personal level. They are asked to wear many hats and are often tasked with dealing with student issues that have nothing to do with math or reading.

“It’s been really hard, because we know these kids go home and don’t have the home life that maybe our children have,” Buysse said.

Lori Erbes, who has worked as a para at TAPS for 29 years, agreed and worries about the parents as well during these unprecedented times.

“We know parents are getting overwhelmed, and we feel for them,” she said. “They’re trying to work from home themselves, along with their kids doing schoolwork now on top of it. It’s going to be really, really tough.”

Erbes said even under normal circumstances, kids these days are dealing with more issues that add stress to their lives.

“So many kids’ mental state before this happened was not great,” she said. “There’s so much depression and anxiety that kids deal with these days — and now you throw this at them.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.