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Bitterroot preschool educators honored

Special Education teacher Candace Briggs and classroom paraeducators Kayla Portlock and Charlee Kellough are recipients of a Paraeducatore/Teacher Team of the Year award.

By Michael Howell


A team of special educators at the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative has received the Paraeducator/Teacher Team of the Year award for Region V of the Western Montana Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (WM-CSPD). BVEC licensed Special Education teacher Candace Briggs and classroom paraeducators Charlee Kellough and Kayla Portlock were honored at the Montana Council for Exceptional Children Conference in Missoula on March 1.

WMCSPD is part of Montana CSPD which is a unified personnel development system that ensures quality educational programs and services for all children and youth. The state has five regions for CSPD.  In our Region 5 WMCSPD serves Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli, and Sanders counties and includes 77 districts, 154 schools with 180 administrators, and over 3,000 certified staff who serve the educational needs of over 40,000 students.

According to BVEC Director Tim Miller, who nominated the team for the award, the teacher meets with the Preschool Team weekly. Besides the paraeducators, the team includes physical and occupational therapists and a psychologist. He said the team process strengthens the program continuity and consistency among multiple personnel coming and going throughout the week and provides weekly opportunities for learning from each other by creating mini in-service training opportunities around the preschooler’s individual needs. This enhances the team’s effort by allowing them to cover for each other when needed. When a team member cannot work or requires a temporary change in schedule, another team member steps in to cover whether it is riding the bus, taking responsibility for a student with high needs, covering playground duty or cleaning up the aftermath of a messy classroom activity.

“I am very proud of the individuals who make the BVEC preschool program so successful,” said Miller.

Heather Van Ostrand, a parent whose four-year old son Kanon has numerous special needs and attends the Bitterroot Valley Cooperative, said, “I can’t think of a more deserving group of teachers and aides.”

“When our son was first diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, Autism, and Epilepsy, my husband and I were very concerned that we would not be able to find the right help and resources for him,” said Van Ostrand. “We feared that he may be misunderstood and that others may not take the time to get to know him and see what an amazing little guy he really is. We also feared that he would have a difficult time making friends with his peers. Fortunately, all of our fears have been put to rest since he started attending the Bitterroot Valley Cooperative over a year ago. Candace, Kayla, and Charlee have been phenomenal with him! They have bent over backwards to help our son reach the best of his abilities. I have never felt like they see his disabilities, but instead see his abilities every day. He has learned so many skills and lessons while at preschool. I have never once felt like he was too much to handle for them or that his challenges were too big for them or him. Instead they have met him on his level and helped him overcome his challenges. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful group to teach and help our son. I am so thankful for each and every one of them.”

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