West Linn paraeducator leads with empathy
When Kimberly Ragan began working as a paraeducator at West Linn’s Willamette Primary School in 2016, she expected to stick with the job for about a year.
But Ragan, who has been named 2023 Amazing Educator for West Linn, quickly fell in love with it.
Before Willamette, Ragan often volunteered at her kids’ schools in West Linn and worked for eight years at a local preschool. After the closure of the preschool, a friend and Willamette teacher told her she should apply for the school.
So she did. In her interview, Ragan said she told then-Willamette Principal Patrick Minor to throw her in wherever help was needed.
“Everyone feels this great positive energy when Kim walks in the room — students and staff love working with her,” said Minor, who worked with Ragan for several years before becoming principal at Lowrie Primary in 2022. “In addition to this, Kim is remarkably curious about her work — always looking for new ways to improve the experience of her students. I have worked with a lot of fantastic paraeducators, and Kim is simply one of the best.”
Ragan’s favorite part of her job is spending so much time with students. As a special education paraeducator, Ragan said she works with her students even more than learning specialists or classroom teachers.
“I love being saturated in their world,” Ragan said of her students.
Ragan works primarily one-on-one with a handful of students, and with some, she is a resource from kindergarten through fifth grade.
As a paraeducator, Ragan’s job is to help her students, who have a wide range of needs and abilities, access learning however they can. This means one school day can be drastically different from the next.
“Your expectations need to go out the window a lot of times,” she said.
Since schools moved to full inclusion, Ragan is often with her students in their classroom, helping them listen to the teacher and participate with the rest of the class. Other times, she and her students work one-on-one outside the classroom on more individualized activities.
Ragan said she teaches with empathy in mind first.
“It’s important to understand how the kids are feeling, how their morning has been, and what they’d like to work on,” she said.
Maybe the student is having a tough day. Maybe they’re not confident in the subject they’re working on. Ragan explained that understanding what the students are feeling is key to helping them.
This patience and understanding are evident to those Ragan assists.
“My neurodivergent daughter needs substantial support in order to attend school, as she is significantly challenged with emotional regulation skills that can lead to difficult behaviors,” said the parent who nominated Ragan as a West Linn Amazing Educator. “This school year is the third that my daughter has had Ms. Ragan as a paraeducator. I have been incredibly grateful to her for her compassion, empathy, and patience with my daughter, as it surely can’t be easy heading to work each day not knowing what the day will bring for the student you work with. But she does it every day, with understanding and great spirit.”
Ragan said she loves helping kids find independence and success in their own ways. Something as simple as a student asking for help can be a huge win.
“It’s challenging every day, but it’s rewarding every day,” she said.