Ledbetter than the rest: Parapro wins first ever support staff of the year

Published 10:00 am Monday, December 4, 2023

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When students at Fairfax Elementary School see Rylee Ledbetter coming down the hall, they know to expect fun. Ledbetter has served as a paraprofessional at the school for the past five years, building lasting connections with all the students.

This year those connections have paid off as she was named the school district’s first-ever districtwide support staff member of the year.

Ledbetter has exceeded expectations by helping with decorations, showing her support at extracurricular events and building relationships with virtually every student at Fairfax. 

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“I know almost every single student by name,” she said. “… I try to go out of my way to let them know that they have somebody.”

Ledbetter said the students get excited when they see “Ms. Rylee” walking through the halls. She works hard to make every moment of the day fun, whether it’s cracking jokes at the carpool lane or helping students learn multiplication. 

She even shows up as “Stinger,” Fairfax’s school mascot, to honor the month’s Super Hornet student.

From singing students’ favorite songs with them to taking the school hamster on field trips around the school, Ledbetter has the high energy needed to keep up with elementary students and even surpass their imaginations throughout the school day. 

“It’s really fun to be able to build those relationships with them, and then be like, ‘Hey, I’m your school big sister,” she said. “And they always know that.”

Ledbetter also teaches a WIN group to assist with reading intervention to students in first grade.

In the classroom, Ledbetter works with students who have learning disabilities and behavior issues. She said she recently became certified in restraint training, which can help de-escalate but can also be hard for her emotionally.

However, anytime that she has felt overwhelmed, she said the support from her family and coworkers has reminded her of why she loves her job. 

“I also have always wanted to be the kind of person who makes everybody feel like a somebody,” Ledbetter said. “And so if I know that a kid is needing somebody in our life, that’s my motivation.”

She said recently a friend mentioned that they were thinking of following in her footsteps and she told them to go for it.

“Every day is like a snowflake,” Ledbetter said. “No one day is like the other. Like, you never know what’s about to happen.”

When a student struggles with containing their emotions, Ledbetter said she tries to communicate on their level and find out what is causing them to get upset. She said these moments of connection help even develop stronger bonds with the students. 

Then, she can suggest how they can make a better choice or communicate with their teacher better next time.

During one instance, Ledbetter had a talk with a student who lost his mother when he was very young. She said she asked if he felt comfortable sharing about it. After talking, Ledbetter said she felt like she should tell him that his mother was proud of him.

“That’s why I do it,” she said. “If I didn’t have that moment with that kid, we wouldn’t have the connection that we have.”