116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Taft Middle School paraprofessional Paige Barber won the state-level Educational Support Professional Award this year for her positive impact on her students, positive attitude and willingness to go above and beyond at work.
'Students know Mrs. Barber is on their side and wants what is best for them,” Taft Principal Gary Hatfield wrote in his letter recommending Barber for the award. 'Her ability to forge positive working relationships with students is second to none. She has helped them become more in command of their own behavior as well as improving their academics.”
Barber, 27, began working for the Cedar Rapids Community School District three years ago after moving to Cedar Rapids.
She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. After graduating college, Barber said she was 'desperate and broke” and applied for a job at a private school to work with kids with autism.
Although she 'fell into that job,” she quickly became an advocate for her students and wanted to help 'create a better world for them.”
'That's where I found my passion for education,” Barber said.
Barber is a paraprofessional at Taft in a behavior focus room. She also works as a security officer for Collins Aerospace. She works about 15 hours a day with few days off.
After spending time in virtual classrooms during the pandemic, Barber decided to return to school this fall at Kirkwood Community College to get an associate degree in computer software development. She hopes to use her degree to improve online learning.
The coronavirus pandemic also forced Barber to confront one of her biggest fears: pandemics themselves.
'When I was growing up, my parents would refuse to let me watch medical shows because pandemics and epidemics freaked me out,” Barber said. 'This year has really allowed me the opportunity to grow.”
'At the end of the day, you can either let it ruin you or strengthen you. I've been trying to let it strengthen me,” she said.
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, all schools in Iowa moved into virtual learning through the end of the school year.
During that time, Barber was online to help students if they had questions about a class and check in with them about how they were doing.
Taft also started the new school year virtually in September 2020 because of damage the building sustained in the Aug. 10 derecho.
When the school finally reopened at the end of November, Barber had a decision to make about whether she would go back to working in person. In the end, it was an easy decision to make.
'I really wanted to show the kids that even when something unprecedented happens, it doesn't mean everything is bad.”
Barber said she approaches her job by assuming students are doing their best in the moment. Working with the students throughout the pandemic also has reminded her of the power of human resiliency.
'You see them living through a time where no one has the answers, but they keep showing up.”
The Educational Support Professional Award is offered through the Iowa State Education Association teachers union.
Taft special education teacher Ian Shelton, whom Barber works with predominantly, said in recommending Barber for the award that she goes above and beyond to make students feel comfortable in the classroom.
'I know firsthand that she has made several positive impacts on students in Taft during remote learning, and look forward to who Paige is able to inspire when she interacts with students in-person,” Shelton wrote in his recommendation letter. 'I believe she would tell someone entering the profession to use the position to motivate students to want to achieve more.”
When she's not in the classroom, Barber said she can be found building a computer, hiking or baking.
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