"Take those headphones off, please and thank you!!!" a voice booms down the middle school hallway. I don't have to look to know who it is - my friend and colleague, paraeducator Julie Woynar.
Julie is my model for how to reach students when I am doing ELL support in various classes. She has been in our school for more than 20 years, guiding students, supporting them, and being a champion for the other paraprofessionals. She has a sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, that is unwavering. When students first meet Julie (and teachers, possibly, too), they are terrified of her. The lucky ones get to know her, though, and they usually love her and remember her for years to come.
From Julie, I learned that sometimes, students really just need to take a lap around the school with you. Maybe they need to talk about every day things, like the weather, or their weekend. And then after that, maybe they can re-enter class with more focus and a sense of calm. A few weeks ago, I took a student on a walk. In class, she was visibly upset. An extremely bright student, I got the sense that she was frustrated with what seemed to her a pointless assignment. The teacher is an excellent teacher who does her best to reach all her students. Still, this student was getting agitated. I took her out of the room and we talked about nothing as we walked around the school. She never told me what was really bothering her, but as she walked back into class, she thanked me. I realized I had just pulled a "Ms.Woynar" move.
A stickler for rules, Julie is the one you will hear asking kids to remove their hats, put their phones away, and get to class quickly. She also will bring a student a special homemade treat for her birthday and buy a student a sweatshirt because the only one he has has something inappropriate on it. She always knows the weird national days, like "National hot dog day" or "National Crazy Tie Day". When students - or teachers - are upset, she distracts them with her silly, crazy stories; soon enough they are laughing with her. I've been that person myself - many times. Sometimes all I need is some chocolate or a hug - and Julie always has both of those to share.
Julie is also the biggest supporter of her crew - the paraeducators of our school. She is the one you want on your side. She goes to bat for her teachers and advocates for them in many ways. She is the queen of random acts of kindness inside school and out. She's also a fierce, loving mom to 2 great kids and gives me advice about parenting all the time.
I always admire the patience Julie has to reach and deal with some of our hardest students. They respond to her, and even when they disappoint her, or make her mad, she is there for them. I remember last year when we had particularly challenging students. There were times no one wanted to deal with them, yet I would see Julie in the hallway with them, walking, talking, laughing, chastising, and saying, "Oh Mylanta!!" - her signature exclamation.
I'm pretty sure that every student in the middle school knows Ms.Woynar. She has subbed for just about every teacher. You wish for that kind of sub because she makes kids do their work, and she is strict. but she also jokes around with them enough so they love her. Every school should have a Julie Woynar. I know that my days would be longer and darker without her presence.
Julie, you rock!!!