The Chicago Journal

Paraeducators needed in Portland public schools due to shortage

Portland public schools have recently reported a shortage of paraeducators to help lift the weight off in special education classrooms.

The shortage is challenging, prompting the Portland Public School District to encourage more people to apply as paraeducators.


In Portland, the district is asking help from the community and encouraging more people to consider taking paraeducator positions as in-person classes have started resuming.

While nothing new, officials shared that the 2022 shortage has been more taxing compared to years prior.

Paraeducators have become a crucial position to fill as teachers are in dire need of help in classrooms to help handle students with special needs.

Kijana Winchester

Ms. Kiki (Kijana Winchester) is a seasoned paraeducator for Portland Public with over 23 years of experience.

The experienced paraeducator works at Jefferson High School.

“My grandfather went to school here,” she shared.

“My father went to school here. I went to school here. I graduated in ’92, and I came back to work in ’98.”

Although most see paraeducator as a means to earn checks, Winchester is one of the exceptional to consider what she does as more than just work, saying:

“I love the students. I love the impact. It’s just gratifying.”

The situation

Tricia Curley, the assistant director of Special Education in middle and high schools, said paraeducators like Winchester could have a lasting impact on the system.

“There are a lot of paraeducators in our district who are changing the lives of students every day, and we need more,” said Curley.

Along with other administrators who oversee the special education program, Curley revealed that the district is in need of more paraeducators.

The director of special education for Portland Public, Michelle Murer, said that it isn’t uncommon to see many positions down.

“This year, we were down 65 openings in August. We’re still, at this moment, down 45 openings,” said Murer.

“At the beginning of the school year, we’re always down probably 15 to 20 paraeducators. But within a month, we’re usually back up to fully staffed within a few.”

More shortage in 2022

The shortage of paraeducators in 2022 has been surprising, and administrators don’t know how the situation came to be.

Others cite the pandemic as a factor to the shortage.

However, Murer said that when the pandemic shut schools down, paraeducators pursued other jobs and never came back.

Meanwhile, other educators cited the challenges of the paraeducator position.

They shared that they often deal with emotional outbursts and injuries when students are unable to regulate their emotions.

The position’s low salary is also a contributing factor.

Regardless, educators acknowledge that students are affected by the situation, which has made for a difficult time following the pandemic.

“I just think that if people come, they’ll see what a difference it makes and how fulfilling that is,” said Curley.

A seasoned paraeducator, Kijana Winchester still finds the job satisfying, which is why she continues to do it after more than two decades.

“Just making a difference in students’ lives like, that’s what makes me want to do it,” said Winchester.

Portland public schools have a $3,000 retention bonus for rookie paraeducators.

Meanwhile, other school districts have also struggled in bringing in paraeducators in recent years.


Portland public schools experiencing special education paraeducator shortage

FUNdamentals for Foster Care Reinforces Education Through Toys

Being in the foster care system can be a very traumatic childhood experience. Among the most affected aspects in a foster child’s life is education because of the constant transfer from one foster home to the next. Understanding how difficult such transitions can be, FUNdamentals for Foster Care sets out its mission to help foster children through educational toys to be actively engaged in learning no matter where they are. 

FUNdamentals for Foster Care is a non-profit organization founded by Cheryl Williams, who also serves as its executive director. Cheryl experienced foster care firsthand when she was put into the system in her sophomore year of high school. It was a challenging experience. Cheryl felt as if her brain stopped working amid all the chaos of being in the system. But she was determined to pursue her education, and eventually, she got her GED and finished college with a 4.0 GPA. However, the whole process took her ten years.

Not wanting any foster child to ever go through the tiresome transitions in the system, Cheryl envisioned FUNdamentals for Foster Care to lend a helping hand by engaging children with educational toys. The organization gives science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics toys to foster children to face their transition. It is under the non-profit program called STEAM toys.

“I wanted to develop a program that helps youth in foster care develop career confidence and life skills at any age in care, even when no dependable parents or mentors are available. We are trying to bridge the gap by providing learning tool kits that they can take with them anywhere,” said Cheryl. FUNdamentals for Foster Care is recognized for its unique mission by local agencies who quickly noticed that their mission was different and profound.

FUNdamentals for Foster Care is indeed playing a vital role in today’s troubled times. Cheryl emphasized that depression, unemployment, drug abuse, alcoholism, sex trafficking, and suicide are increasing. To address this, non-profit organizations should take a stand and make a difference. Cheryl is at the forefront of helping foster children, who are among the most vulnerable in society. 

Even amid the pandemic, FUNdamentals for Foster Care remains strong in their mission. The organization has partnered with Chelsea’s Charity. This hero has been spreading love to foster children during the COVID-19 pandemic by giving them art supplies. Indeed, the non-profit is empowering children across the United States. They are calling for more public heroes, celebrities, and influencers to support their worthy cause. 

Cheryl Williams graduated with a degree in early childhood education. She has been working closely with other non-profit organizations for over the years and has impacted thousands of lives. Cheryl was born in Chicago, Illinois, and currently lives in Austin, Texas. She has been a part of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), care communities that give practical support for people with terminal illnesses, and Restoration Belongings, an organization that provides practical support for single mothers.

While picking out Christmas gifts for CASA children, Cheryl discovered the significant impact of giving them personalized toys that precisely match their interests. She was inspired to do it on a larger scale and focus on nurturing education, which led her to build FUNdamentals for Foster Care. Today, she focuses on reaching more children in the foster system. “We are looking for the pure-hearted champions and heroes to be a part of this growing organization,” said the founder.

To those looking to become social ambassadors by helping get the word out about the organization’s mission, connect with Cheryl through Learn more about Fundamentals for Foster Care on their website.

How Ikaramu Founder Norbert Butare Is Promoting Education Amid a Crisis

When the COVID-19 pandemic spread in Rwanda, the country went into total lockdown. This meant students couldn’t go to school. Norbert Butare, a twenty-one-year-old Rwandan international student, realized the gap in the Rwandan education spectrum. He founded Ikaramu, which gives young writers, bloggers, and future authors a platform to write about their social, political, or economic perspectives in different ways.

The young visionary worked on the Ikaramu for two months before organizing a team of young Rwandans to help him run the platform, making sure it is user-friendly and helpful to all stakeholders. Ikaramu is a direct translation of the word pen from Kinyarwanda language. The internet has become the modern-day pen, and Norbert intends to use it to give youth in Rwanda a voice.

Norbert Butare’s passion for education is one of his strongest qualities. He came to the US in fall of 2018 to finish high school and is currently a sophomore at Florida International University in Miami, taking up international business. When he learned about the threat to education in his homeland, he knew he had to act quickly to help his fellow Rwandan youth get the learning that they deserved. He wanted to build an easily accessible and understandable online resource for young students to contribute to and learn from. Ikaramu gives young Rwandan writers a platform to express their writing creativity, connects peer-to-peer writers in an effort to improve idea sharing, and offers awards to top writers in competitions in the form of prize money, school fees, school materials, and many more.

Rwandan students were quick to contribute to the new platform. The website boasts of a growing repository of English and French think pieces, poems, essays, and stories pertaining to issues affecting the country. The platform has helped the youth make their voices known and showcase their writing ability.

Ikaramu currently hosts its platforms at its headquarters in Kigali, Rwanda, and its website. The team behind the platform recently rolled out its Android app and soon will be launching its iOS counterpart to make the platform more accessible and user-friendly to mobile users.

In its upcoming ventures, Ikaramu is also partnering with major Rwandan publishing companies in order to publish some of the Ikaramu contributors. Ikaramu is in the process of creating a writing competition that will offer scholarships and other similar education-oriented awards.

While the platform’s primary audience is Rwandan youth, Norbert also hopes to reach American audiences to help raise awareness about issues in the African continent. Ikaramu is also aiming to tap foreign investors and nonprofit organizations to partner with to further improve the platform. Ikaramu is the only one of its kind in Rwanda that is helping to cultivate the youths’ minds amid academic hurdles brought by the COVID-19 crisis.

Norbert hopes to promote gifted Rwandan authors who do not get the platforms they deserve. He considers them untapped potential that could potentially develop the country.

Ikaramu is aiming to be the biggest private literature hub in Rwanda, with several successful authors building their foundation on the platform.Read what Rwandan youths are discussing on the Ikaramu website.