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Unsung Heroes: Playground Aides Keep Students Safe

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Monitoring school recess isn’t a spectator sport. It requires skill, training, and a commitment to helping students.

School recess -- a time for students to run, jump, scream, sweat, and mingle with their peers without interruption by an adult. That is, until someone falls and chips a tooth. Or starts a fight.

Left to their own devices, students could really hurt themselves during recess. But fear not, for to the rescue is the often unheralded, always unassuming, but highly competent playground aide.

A playground aides’ main job is to monitor students and keep them safe from harm, contrary to what many may believe is their primary task: Watching kids play.

Playground aide Mitzi Thornton

“They absolutely make a difference during recess,” says Marilyn Likins, executive director of the National Resource Center for Paraeducators based at Utah State University in Logan. “But as with most professional positions, it comes down to whether their roles and expectations have been explained and if they have been given the proper training to perform those roles effectively.”

In many cases, aides have not been trained in how to support constructive social behavior, redirect or manage extreme student behavior, assess the safety needs of students, or redirect students’ energy in a positive way on the playground even though a playground aide encounters situations involving each of these on a regular basis.

When you take into consideration the many aspects of being an effective playground aide,
more training, support, and respect is in order, says Likins.

“I think that it’s highly important for administrators, teachers, and paraeducators as a whole to advocate for playground aides to get the proper training they need,” she says.

Many aides learn on the job. To improve as professionals, more professional learning opportunities should be offered by school systems, Likins explains.

Aides sometimes participate in professional learning seminars sponsored by their schools or districts involving general healthcare and instructional practices. However, many of these sessions are not often specific to the playground environment.

“We provide a listening ear for students when they are having a bad day or someone is mean to them,” says Mitzi Thornton, a playground aide for six years at Linden Elementary School in Linden, Mich. “We have extra snow pants, winter coats, and extra gloves for those who may not have any at home.”

In addition to providing clothing, lunch money, and supplies to students in need, Thornton has found herself in the role of mentor, advisor, and confidant to some students.

“I try and teach them values like good sportsmanship,” she says. “This goes a long way toward helping them with team building and interaction skills, particularly when it comes to class projects and other group activities.”

When Thornton watches young students interact with one another while playing catch, soccer, or dodge ball, she knows these young students are the high school sports stars of the future.

“You can tell that some of these students will be joining a sports team, if they haven’t already,” she says. “Many aspects of their development involve learning how to connect and communicate properly with others.”

School should be a safe haven where students do not feel subjected to physical or verbal abuse by bullies or suffer hunger pangs from skipping meals due to financial difficulties at home, she explains.

“Playground aides do their best to help students whenever and however possible,” she says.


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