When returning to campus this school year, Hettie Halstead Elementary Paraprofessional Sonya Sheehan stated her goal was to create an environment that made students and staff happy when they walked through the front doors and make them want to be at school. She and another paraprofessional redecorated the entire teacher’s lounge.
Sheehan’s husband hand-made a new table to organize and hold the coffee supplies. The school was decorated with fun and festive colorful creations to welcome students back and keep them excited about coming to school each day.
“Mrs. Sheehan spends countless hours of her own time creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for students and staff alike,” Principal Billie Diaz. “We have named her our official party planner and ‘fixer upper queen.’”
Sheehan inspires students to come to school each day so they can learn. She has worked at Hettie Halstead Elementary for four years, serving as an instructional paraprofessional and a special education paraprofessional.
“Mrs. Sheehan uses her talents to help students discover their own,” Diaz said. “She dedicates her time and energy each day to the students in her care, doing it all while meeting the individual needs of many. Sonya knows when to intervene; sometimes it is a complex social situation, an attention issue in class, or a life lesson.
She is calm and patient in both crisis and in tedium. Many of the students she serves have difficulty with executive function skills. Mrs. Sheehan assists them with organization skills, keeping track of assignments, and bathroom breaks. She encourages students to maintain neatness in their desks and be prepared for class.”
CaRhonda Parham worked as the school’s counselor with Sheehan and describes her as a “heartfelt hero.”
“Paraprofessionals follow the instructions of teachers and administrators but also have to make difficult judgment calls when working one-on-one with students,” Parham said. “Sonya does a great job when it comes to being a team player. She is able to act as a go-between, relating concerns and observations, to supervising teachers.
“I love that she is creative when it comes to decorating the school for holidays, cultural events, school board luncheons, classrooms, and many other special occasions. She comes up with creative solutions on the spot and executes those ideas on the weekend or late evenings after she has clocked out of her official day.
“She has taken our 60-year-old school and turned the inside into a place many teachers and students call home, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., a beautiful and comfortable place to learn and grow.”
Sheehan was named the 2021 Hettie Halstead Elementary Paraprofessional of the Year.