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Barbara Kenniston will retire from 30 years as paraprofessional at Green Acres Elementary School at the end of December. She says it was a learning experience for her as well as the kids. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Barbara Kenniston has seen 30 years at just one school. During her years as a paraprofessional, she learned many things, but most of all: “Green Acres is the place to be!”
Barbara came to town from Waltham, Massachusetts in 1973 when she married her husband, Robert. She took a job at Green Acres Elementary School in 1987 and has been there ever since. She’ll be retiring from her position at the end of December do to medical concerns.
“I’m very betwixt and between this new journey that I’m going to start on. I just feel that it’s time,” Barbara says. “I…wanted to leave on a good note.”
As a paraprofessional and not a teacher, Barbara has had the chance to take on a variety of roles at Green Acres. She started with 5th grade students, but has since moved to work with the K-2 kids, where she likes it best.
“Every year, my girls would say to me, ‘Ma, you’re still in Kindergarten. First grade?’” she says. “Yeah, 30 years and I’m still in Kindergarten.”
“It’s been a great opportunity for me to work with these kids,” she says. “I love my job. I enjoy the kids. They really make you think, but times are changing.”
Before Green Acres, Barbara worked for the phone company as a 611 operator while Robert worked for Pratt & Whitney. Her two jobs, Barbara said, were very different. She had something of a learning curve when she came to Green Acres.
“I was taking stuff home [because] I wanted to learn and know what’s going on,” she says.
But Barbara enjoyed the sense of gratification she got from helping to teach the kids at Green Acres.
“When you’re working one-on-one with a child and you see that light bulb go off and you say, ‘Yes, I made a difference in this child’s life,’” she says.
After Robert died, she moved in with one of her daughters in town rather than move away or find a different job.
“I couldn’t go anywhere else. I just felt so connected,” she says.
Though she has often found herself with the experience to advise new teachers, Barbara has never seriously considered getting a teaching certificate.
“All the people that I’ve worked with always said, ‘You missed your calling,’ but no, I just was happy doing what I was doing,” she says. “Never thought about it.”
She says she learns a lot just working at the school as curriculum changes and she has to adapt to help the kids learn.
“I only have a high school education, so going around and learning things for myself was thoroughly interesting,” she says. “I’ve worked through five principals and many, many wonderful teachers who’ve come through and taught me.”
Barbara always enjoyed the time she had with the children, reading stories and doing crafts with them. In particular, she enjoyed reading them the books of Jan Brett.
Barbara found the changing math curriculum to be sometimes difficult to keep up with. She once took home a few school workbooks to familiarize herself with the curriculum, but found that she had different ways of finding the solutions than the text.
“I’m from the old school. This new math program is tough,” Barbara says. “The curriculum is ever-changing.”
One of her favorite activities took place when the teachers were preparing lessons and Barbara would get to read to the kids and follow up the story with a related craft for the kids to take home. It allowed her to really interact with the kids.
“That was something that I missed, I still miss it,” Barbara says. “I’ve had kids tell me, when they come back, ‘Remember when we did this and this?’”
She’s found that being able to interact with the kids personally, either during playtime at recess or during teaching time in the classroom, is an important part of learning.
“That’s the biggest thing—making a lasting impression on those children,” Barbara says.
Through the hardships of her life, Barbara says the staff of Green Acres has been like a family to her.
“Green Acres is the place, was the place, and will always be the place to be,” she says. “They have a little bit of my heart in there.”
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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