Jennifer Benson – Paraprofessional with a Purpose
Work with a student with autism one-on-one all day; oversee the breakfast and lunch programs; coach the Special Olympic team; and for good measure volunteer for community events to promote how Camelot helps students with special needs. Those are just some of the roles performed by Jennifer Benson, a paraprofessional with Camelot of the Quad Cities since January 2015.
“It is the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done,” she says. “I tried out different routes in school to find ways to help people and the community, and nothing has been as personally fulfilling as this job has been. It is rewarding to see the success of the students, to see them achieve something that they never thought they would be able to achieve, and grow behaviorally, academically and to just be a better person. It’s amazing to be involved in that kind of transformation.”
A graduate in elementary education from St. Louis University, Jennifer is working toward earning her teacher certification so she can fulfill her career ambition. Her primary responsibility now is to work one-on-one with her high school student.
“It’s an important role because the student you are working with needs that constant reinforcement and reminder as to what they’re supposed to be doing,” she says. “No matter how a student communicates, the ‘para’ needs to be right on top of that form of communication. For example, my student works with an iPad-like device that allows him to communicate and he and I also use sign language to communicate.”
Camelot of the Quad Cities serves a range of students from the autism spectrum to other disabilities – and kids who cannot speak to students who talk a lot! Jennifer creates visuals to help in communicating to non-verbal students.
One of Jennifer’s jobs is to oversee the school’s breakfast and lunch program, which she also uses as a teaching opportunity. She works with students to develop their menu and to prepare and serve the meals and do the dishes. She develops a shopping list with the students and then takes them to the store to buy the items. The idea is to prepare students to shop for themselves after they complete school.
“She is just awesome: calm, cool and collected at all times,” according to Camelot of Quad Cities principal Deb Singley. “Paraprofessionals play a key support role in Camelot’s therapeutic day schools, and Jennifer is everything we hope for in that position and more.”
Speaking of cool, Jennifer participates in the Polar Plunge with other members of the staff as a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. That’s dedication!