When Krystle Corlett joined the support staff at Canton schools she almost saw it as a way to get her “feet wet” in education.
Some eight years later, as a paraprofessional at Canton Middle School, she said she's thrilled to be where she is, working closely with a handful of students.
It's so rewarding that she keeps putting off that teaching degree she's thought about for years.
“I’m really hesitant to leave; I do love it so much,” she said. “We really have a special relationship with students, teachers don’t always get to have.”
For her work, Corlett was recently honored as Canton’s first-ever paraeducator of the year.
One student she's worked closely with for several years is 8th-grader Buck Mather.
During a recent science lab she took notes, read questions and, based in input from Buck, controlled the computer-generated experiments reinforcing the difference between weight and mass.
During the class and a social studies one preceding it, she communicated with Buck in several ways, often moving from seamlessly from one to the other. The eye-recognition software on Buck's chair-mounted computer allows him to spell, use a calculator or select pre-programmed words. For simple yes or no answers Buck can also look at the “Yes,” “No” or “IDK” cards on the tray in front of him but it’s often not necessary. Corlett can easily tell his answer by his body language.
Without missing a beat Corlett helped him navigate the lively hallways between periods, take books and notes in and out of his backpack, note his lunch choice, hand in homework, take off his arm-stretching splints, deal with a few computer glitches and prepare his lunch.
She is also not the only adult who works with Buck but Corlett sees him every day and has since the end of his 5th-grade year.
To Buck’s mother Susie, it's about more than academic achievement.
“We have been so fortunate to have someone so special work with Buck,” she said. “He is a bright young man who deserves to be with someone who shows a genuine interest in his learning experience the way she does. Mrs. Corlett has a special respectful calmness coupled with enthusiasm that is quite unique. There are so many paraprofessionals, special education staff and employees of the Canton school system that deserve a daily award but we were so pleased to learn that she was chosen for this well-deserved award. She has earned more than this honor and respect from her peers; she has earned a lifetime of gratitude from our family and the love of our son.”
Corlett grew up in Granby and attended Clemson for a time before transferring to the University of Connecticut and obtaining an urban and community studies degree in 2004.
That same year she applied for a paraprofessional job at Canton High School and started in the fall.
At the time Corlett didn’t know much about the profession.
“I knew I wanted to get involved in education,” she said.
After two years on the job, she transferred to Canton Intermediate School. Until recently she was known as Miss Maisch.
Along the way, she not only discovered she loved working closely with a select number of students but also that the job offered some flexibility to keep up with other interests, such as coaching a competitive cheerleading team and teaching ACROfitness at PlayStrong Group in Simsbury.
“For me it worked, she said, “I was still able to do the other things I loved.”
It’s also worked for the district, according to Special Education teacher Tina Olsen.
Corlett provides a key link between the special education teacher and the integrated classes of her students, Olsen said. She is also dedicated and knows how to get the most from each student, she added.
“Krystle works daily to make sure the students that she works with are given the support they need to be the best they can be,” Olsen said. “She gently, but firmly, supports all of her students in their academic settings. She is there reminding students to take notes; she monitors their homework completion; and she facilitates their reading and writing in a way that gives them support so they won’t give up, yet makes them do the work on their own as much as is possible.”
Kevin Case, Superintendent of the Canton Public Schools, said Corlett was an excellent choice for the new recognition, something many schools have started this year.
“Krystle always has a positive attitude which is necessary when working with children," he said. "Krystle has shared her thoughts that for every student, achievement means something different. The quality of her work exceeds expectations because she truly understands the individual needs of her students and works to help every student achieve their own goal and find their own success.”
Corlett said she was surprised and honored to be chosen. Teachers are generally notified in the summer and recognized in the fall. Recently Canton celebrated honored Corlett and teacher of the year Nancy Grace.
Corlett is thrilled to see paraprofessionals increasingly respected.
How about going for that teaching degree?
“Maybe,” Corlett said. “I’m not ready yet.”