Instructor assistants at the heart of student, classroom success

Smiling woman alone in classroom

Chelsi Davis can barely remember a time when she wasn’t interested in helping – and learning from – people with disabilities.

Her mom, a former bus assistant for the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, always brought Davis along during Take Your Child to Work Day. Davis also visited her grandfather, who worked in the FCBDD bus garage. And as she grew older, Davis began lending a hand in the after-school program at the agency’s West Central School.

“That’s when the principal said, ‘Do you want a job here?’” she said, recalling a conversation with the late Mike Ross. “I did! I got to experience all the different classrooms, and I loved it. My sister was here, too, and now she works in our Early Childhood Education program.”

For the past six years, Davis has been an instructor assistant at West Central, providing crucial support to both students and classroom teachers.

“We couldn’t do it without them – 100 percent,” Principal Rebecca Holthaus said. “I’ve never met a group of instructional assistants so dedicated. You can go into any class, any time, and they are always engaged with students. They’re remarkable.”

Davis loves her work and does her best to champion it in the community. Yes, she tells people, students with serious disabilities might need help with eating or personal hygiene. But that’s just a small part of what she considers an important and deeply rewarding job.

“These kids are phenomenal,” she said. “Seeing their growth and development is amazing.”

Davis is especially pleased when she’s able to help students overcome some of their behavioral and emotional challenges. Helping them to feel more secure and relaxed, or to communicate more easily, is key. “Difficult behaviors are often defensive behaviors,” she said.

One of her students, for example, began making significant progress after Davis made changes to his adaptive communication device. “Now, the options reflect what he likes, what he wants to say,” she said. “I’ve learned so much, too. I’ve learned how to communicate in so many different ways.”

Davis also loves receiving feedback from parents who notice positive changes. A student who had worn a helmet all day, every day, is now managing without it, “And Mom is so happy,” Davis said, smiling. “Now she can do her daughter’s beautiful hair.”