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Failure is not an option

June 26, 2012

Debbie Conley, Angie Garcia, Nancy Thornburg and Karen Tomasek (l-r) are four Bishop Elementary school instructional aides who provide an immeasurably vital part in the education of 800-plus Bishop children, said Principal Betsy McDonald (not shown). Funding for instructional aides was cut from the budget. Photo courtesy Betsy McDonald

Bishop Elementary School Principal Betsy McDonald isn’t pulling any punches when she says the education of “our next generation is at stake.”
In continuing to make an impassioned plea for the Bishop community’s support of the “Keep Instructional Aides” fundraiser, McDonald explained that student success is at risk amidst ongoing budget cuts, growing class size and resulting lack of opportunity for individualized instruction.
Instructional aides allow students to get “the help they need to succeed,” McDonald said, so not having the aides would be an equal-opportunity setback for advanced, average and remedial students alike.
The goal of the “Keep Instructional Aides” fundraiser, launched by Bishop Elementary Schools Together, is to raise $21,000 – a vital part of McDonald’s plan to payroll instructional aides’ salaries for the 2012-13 school year, she said.
BEST, a non-profit foundation that funds Bishop Elementary School programs, allocates funds as the teachers collectively see fit and this year, as one voice, they have voted to dedicate all current funds to keeping the eight instructional aides currently on staff at the elementary school, said McDonald.
Without class-size reduction, class rosters have swollen to as many as “23-33 children,” McDonald said of the challenge facing teachers. Without competent instructional aides, it is impossible for teachers to give students of wide-ranging learning abilities the one-on-one attention and differentiated instruction they need in order to flourish academically, she continued.
Up until now, the school’s eight instructional aides have made that crucial contact possible as they visit each of the 35 kindergarten-through-fifth-grade classrooms every day for 45 minutes each, explained McDonald. (Differentiated instruction allows teachers to teach the same or similar material in different ways to suit the needs of their students; varying learning abilities.)
Instructional aides allow classroom teachers concentrated time during which they work with higher- or lower-functioning groups. They have “a lot of experience. They are incredible with the kids,” said McDonald, referring to her aides as “ unsung heroes.”
Furthermore, by helping with small-group instruction, instructional aides are “an integral part of both student enrichment and intervention in the Response to Intervention system, McDonald explained. “Response to Intervention pyramids help us to close the achievement gap.” When children enter kindergarten with anywhere from 2- to 8-year-old literacy and skill levels, RTI’s goal is to close that six-year gap to get all of the children to grade-level performance ability.
The RTI pyramid is also an enrichment opportunity when instructional aides afford teachers the opportunity to work with students whose skills are beyond those their peers. Instructional aides “give every kid what they need when they need it,” explained McDonald.
Although aides’ hours vary – some are lunch aides as well as classroom aides – they work mostly from 8:30 a.m.-noon, “prime brain time” for the children, said McDonald. And they often “give of their own time,” staying beyond paid work hours to complete a lesson or activity with the children, she said. “Their unparalleled dedication to the kids, the teachers and the school is instrumental in our rise to greatness.”
The question McDonald puts to the community is: Will we let our children rise, or fall? Without funding, Bishop Elementary School’s staff would lose the dedicated services of all of its unsung-hero instructional aides, except for the bilingual and special education aides. Classes would have to rely on volunteers to try and fill the huge vacancy, said McDonald.
On the whole, no matter how well-meaning, volunteers are unable to provide the consistency and level of experience that current Bishop Elementary School instructional aides can, according to McDonald.
Instructional aides build positive, ongoing, working relationships with children from the start of the school year on, explained McDonald. They come to know children’s individual skills, strengths, talents and needs – in short, their unique individuality.
This sort of familiarity also assists in maintaining order in the classroom, said the principal, which is crucial to an environment conducive to learning. There would likely be more discipline issues as well, McDonald went on to say. “Our aides are child-friendly and know how to be helpful to kids in many ways, not just academically. They have big hearts.
“These are really good people to be working with the children of Bishop, high- caliber. It would be tragic to lose them.” And with them, would go years of experience, expertise and carefully-nurtured student-educator relationships on which it is impossible to put a price tag, said McDonald.
Yet there is a very real price tag on hiring the elementary school instructional aides back for the 2012-13 school year. “We will need at least $60,000 for the (2012-13) year,” said McDonald.
The goal is for BEST to be able to offer $40,000 to the district with the hope that the district will then provide the additional $20,000 to hire the aides for the entire year. BEST now has $19,000 of that $40,000, therefore the “Keep Instructional Aides” fundraiser goal is $21,000. McDonald explained that, “$21,000 is a big goal, but it’s a small price to pay for helping 800-plus children” receive a quality education … This is our next generation of Bishop community members – our city state, country and world future.” Nearly $5,000 has been raised so far with this campaign.
McDonald implores the community to join the teachers who are “donating money to the cause themselves” by giving to the “Keep Instructional Aides” fundraiser. To donate by credit card, go to www.causes.com/bishopaides and click on “GIVE.” No amount is too small, said McDonald. “Every little bit counts – $5 or $10, or $50, $100, $1,000. Go there as often as you can and give.”
Donations by check, written to “BEST,” may be dropped off at or mailed to Bishop Elementary School, 800 W. Elm St., Bishop, CA 93514.
For every $25 that donors give, they will receive one ticket for a drawing for an iPad2, a prize courtesy of the Bishop Sunrise Rotary Club. The drawing will take place in early August. All donations are tax-deductible.
“Failure is not an option,” said McDonald. “By Aug. 1 at the latest, I would like to know that we’re ready to rock and roll with this and have a full contingent of instructional aides on board.”

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