LPS hires student paraeducators to offset staff shortage

Some Lincoln Public School students are getting a unique opportunity to work part-time for the school district.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 10:11 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Some Lincoln Public School students are getting a unique opportunity to work part-time for the school district while also finishing their last year of high school.

They’re helping LPS solve a shortage of staff who work with special education students. The program started this semester.

LPS said this school year there’s a higher number of paraeducators vacancies, people who help out in classrooms. Now LPS is turning to its own students to offset the shortage.

After her own classes are done for the day, Lizzie Lesoing puts on her badge and switches from student to paraeducator.

The Lincoln Southwest High School senior is one of ten LPS students providing much-needed help in the district’s elementary and middle schools.

“I basically just come in, and I kind of just help kids and I play with them mostly, which is awesome,” Lesoing said.

LPS said the student work program comes as vacancies in paraeducators positions are growing. They have been since the pandemic started.

Right now, the district is short 33 paraeducators, mostly in special education.

“We have schools that don’t have full support,” said Marla Styles, LPS human resource specialist. “So they’ve been able to use those students in that capacity to be able to assist with programming.”

Lesoing is heavily involved in unified activities, which pair together students with and without disabilities. That’s a big reason why she’s involved in the program.

Lesoing works at Elliott Elementary School, and Elliott’s special education coordinator said having additional help is so beneficial to staff and students.

“We’ve been had a vacancy the entire school year,” said Rachel Lewis, Elliott Elementary special education coordinator. “So that leaves a pretty big gap for students who are needing support.”

The hiring process for students is the same as a full-time paraeducator; an interview, a background check, and contacting references.

Student paraeducators are paid and work for about an hour out of their school day each day.

“It’s a life changing experience,” Lesoing said. “I actually wrote one of my college essays about it already. And it’s just, it’s changed me so much. And I’ve only been doing it for a month.”

LPS said this is just a pilot program and there will be discussions about whether to bring it back for future school years.