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Paraprofessional Finds Different Ways to Connect at Vanderbilt

Note: This is one in a series recognizing winners of the 2021-22 NHA Excellence Awardsa program that honors educators, deans, and administrative teams across our network.

Suzanne Jones has worked at several schools, but none compare to Vanderbilt Charter Academy.

Excellence in Teaching finalists and winner.Vanderbilt Charter Academy Excellence in Teaching finalists, along with Suzanne Jones.

In the mid-’90s to the beginning of the 2000s she went back into substitute teaching when her youngest child got into school full-time. She had long-term and part-time positions before coming to Vanderbilt and has enjoyed being in a place full of camaraderie and devotion.

“I took 10 years off to raise kids but in that time of working in various buildings, I told (Principal Jeff Groggel) that I think there are three of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with in this building,” she said. “It’s a pretty amazing, dedicated group of people right on down to the paras. I think we work well together, and I just love the staff.”

Jones is in her 11th year at Vanderbilt, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years. She started as a middle school paraprofessional and moved into the math intervention role when that opened up. She was honored as an Excellence in Teaching winner as part of the National Heritage Academies (NHA) Excellence Awards for the 2021-22 school year.

Jones works with a variety of age groups as a paraprofessional, but getting students to connect with the material begins the same way no matter grade or skill level. She especially takes pride in helping students who were developing apathy toward schoolwork reach proficiency in reading and math by building up their confidence.

Suzanne Joes posing with award.Suzanne Jones has taught at Vanderbilt Charter Academy for 11 years.

“I think that you have to build relationships with your kids, and that works a little differently with different ages,” she said. “I work with such a wide variety of ages. You have to build that rapport and set them up for success at the beginning, where they can do some things where they can be successful.”

After establishing a rapport, Jones pushes students to have a toolbox of things to try when they’re stuck, such as drawing a picture telling the story, thinking about what’s happening, or just going back to the basics of mathematics.

Jones has long had an enthusiasm for getting students to grasp the fundamentals of math. It’s the result of her following in the footsteps of her parents, both teachers.

“My dad taught high school mathematics also and he always loved his job,” she said. “I saw that growing up in his passion for that. Almost as far back as I could remember, I wanted to be a teacher.”

That conviction has continued throughout her career. She stepped in as the sixth grade math teacher while a colleague was on maternity leave.

Groggel said Jones’ teamwork is a blessing to Vanderbilt’s kindergarten to eighth grade students and staff every day. Her individual and small group interventions are goal-oriented and positive, meeting students at their academic sweet spot.

“Suzanne teaches with loving and positive, yet firm expectations that students strive to meet,” he said. “Her willingness to provide instructional support in sixth grade during a long-term substitute time-frame was an amazing gift to the entire team. She definitely goes above and beyond the specifics of her job as a math interventionist every day.”

Keep up the excellent work, Mrs. Jones!

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About Vanderbilt Charter Academy:
‚ÄčVanderbilt Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Holland, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.

Visit Vanderbilt Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.