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South Salt Lake Journal

Two tutors bring 82 years of combined experience to Walker Elementary

Feb 18, 2021 02:03PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Nancy Wanner, who has tutored students for 35 years, works on lesson material. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Even though Olene Walker Elementary is a new school, it is a school full of experience. Two paraeducators who work here have a total of 82 years of experience between them.

Lillian Winn, 81, has worked for 47 years. She started at Roosevelt Elementary and moved to Walker this year. As a stay-at-home mother with five children, she began volunteering in her children’s kindergarten classes. In 1973, an opening for a Teacher’s Aide, which was their title back then, became available, and the rest is history.

“I loved it. My schedule matched my children’s schedule. When they were out of school, so was I,” Winn said.

Nancy Wanner, 75, has tutored children for 35 years. She also came from Roosevelt. Wanner and Winn have known each other for 39 years. She always wanted to work with children. In college, Wanner was an elementary education major, but marriage and family changed her focus. Once all her children were in school, she started to work as a paraeducator.

“I always love working with kids,” Wanner said.

What do paraeducators do?

In the case of Winn and Wanner, they help with reading for kindergarten to second grade. Typically, they work with six students at a time, but they are limited to three in a group during the pandemic. They have 11 to 12 groups a day.

They are using a new reading program this year, and these tutors are up to the task of learning a new way. This program focuses on the sounds letters make. Students are taught sounds to pronounce words.

One new skill for Winn and Wanner is Phoneme Blending. They help children hear the individual sounds in a word and put the sounds together to say the word. For example, Winn or Wanner might say to a student, “sss-aaa-nnn-d,” and the student will say the word “sand.” 

“I think having to learn a new program like this year and like last year keeps our minds young,” Winn said.

Before helping with reading, Winn and Wanner helped tutor math and help with standardized testing. For a few years, Winn ran the computer lab at Roosevelt. They also have worked in all grades through the years.

While speaking about the diverse student population at Walker, both Winn and Wanner mentioned they are surprised by how fast students learn English.

“I can understand what these non-English speaking students are going through. I came from Norway when I was 8. I had to learn English on my own,” Winn said. “The only phrase my father taught me was ‘I don’t speak English.’”

Why be a paraeducator?

“It gives me a great sense of accomplishment helping these kids,” Wanner said.

Winn and Wanner explained that in a classroom, students could get lost. They fall behind. However, in a small group, they get the help they need. They are more focused, and Winn and Wanner can hear each student.

“This is the greatest job in the world. We can do our job and go home,” Winn said.

They both said that the teachers at Walker Elementary are amazing and that the teachers work hard and love the kids.

They are also grateful for the support from principal Valarie Bergera. They have a large and comfortable area to use both for tutoring and storing supplies.

“When Roosevelt closed last year, we asked Valarie if we should go too. She replied, ‘Of course. We need you both,’” Winn said.

Winn and Wanner said that being a paraeducator was a great job when they had kids at home because their schedule matched their children’s.

“I took all my kids to school with me because we all went to Roosevelt,” Winn said.

“It is very rewarding,” Wanner said.

“You couldn’t ask for a better job,” Winn added.

They also mentioned that when they were raising a family, the extra income helped.

The basic requirements for becoming a paraeducator are simple: Have a high school diploma or GED. If you work in a Title I school, you will have to pass the ParaPro test. If you have 48 hours of college credit, you don’t have to take the test. You must be able to lift 50 pounds. You need to be a responsible person and have a positive attitude. Lastly, you must be patient working with children and want to make a difference.

Paraeducator positions are available on the Granite School District (GSD) website Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “Apply for employment or manage application.” Look for paraeducator and instructional assistants in the list on the left side.