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WALK IN THEIR SHOES: Vista Paraeducator Samantha Miller

As the rush of students came into Vista Middle School’s cafeteria for breakfast one morning, paraeducator Samantha Miller and a couple staff members were there, ready to greet them. Officially, Miller was there to supervise the students and make sure they don’t get into a food fight. But because everyone was well-behaved, she mostly served as one of the first friendly faces students see during their school day. One student even complimented Miller’s shoes. 

“See you in fifth period!” she told the student. 

Miller, who has been a paraeducator in Ferndale schools for eight years, has many different roles during her workday – she keeps kids on task during class, watches the hallways during passing periods, takes notes for students with vision impairment, and more. Essentially, Miller’s overarching goal is to help students succeed in school through multiple avenues, and it’s a role she cherishes. 

“When you’re helping them understand something, and it finally clicks – I love that,” she said. “I like being able to see how they think, and then you can tailor your approach to them.” 

For example, while working in the resource room in first period that morning, Miller was helping a few students with their assignments about natural monuments. She used casual conversation to jog students’ memories about the Black Hills and Mount St. Helens – “Did you know I still have a jar of Mount St. Helens ash my grandparents sent me?” – which motivated the students. 

It’s important for paraeducators to develop strong relationships with the students they consistently work with, Miller said. And one way to achieve that is through small talk, which can endear the student to the staffer and give the student a brain break from their assignment. 

“Sometimes, you have to step away from the work and ask them, ‘Hey, how are things going today? How was your weekend?’” Miller said. “I think it’s helpful being personable – then they know you’re a person too!” 

Patience and flexibility are also key skills for assisting students, Miller said. 

“Not every student learns the same way, so you have to be patient and think outside the box sometimes,” she said. 

Miller began her career in Ferndale 11 years ago as a substitute paraeducator at Cascadia Elementary, eventually becoming a full-time paraeducator there a few years later. She moved to Vista about four years ago, and she’s learned to enjoy the unique transitions of the middle school years. 

“To see the difference between 6th and 8th graders -- it’s amazing to see what they can do, and see their potential,” Miller said. 

During an 8th grade science class, Miller walked around to guide students through a physics experiment, from helping double-check students’ calculations to making sure they stayed on task.  

“Part of the job is helping the teacher with crowd control – keeping kids from getting too crazy,” she said. 

One of the perks of Miller’s job is her fellow Vista staff. She had nothing but praise for her co-workers. 

“I work with some great people, that’s for sure,” Miller said. “Everybody seems to pitch in if you need something.”