What I do

What I do: Desiree Mark, teacher’s aide, ADAPT

Desiree Mark, teacher’s aide, ADAPT Desiree Mark has worked for nearly 30 years at the Lawrence Avenue school of the ADAPT Community Network, formerly United Cerebral Palsy of NYC, working with children whose medical, cognitive, emotional and/or physical needs require a more restrictive setting than a public school. Since 2003, the UFT has represented ADAPT employees, who now number more than 900 at schools, day programs and residences citywide.

What drew you to ADAPT?
I saw a telethon for United Cerebral Palsy and disabled children were on the program. I like working with people, and I saw there are people out there who need people like me who care.

Tell me about your day.
My day starts at 7:30 a.m. when the children get off the school bus. It ends at 2:30 p.m. when they return home. We aides supervise them in the lobby as they wait to be taken by their class teams to their respective rooms. We help them take off their coats and do body checks. They are checked for abrasions, bruises or anything out of the norm. We serve breakfast to them — those who are independent feed themselves and those who cannot are helped. Lunch is also served in the class. After breakfast, there may be a child who needs to use the bathroom or needs to be changed. Then we start the classroom activities. I work in a class with 10 special needs children, from ages 10 to 12. There are four aides and one teacher in the class.

What is your role in the classroom?
We start with the morning welcoming activity. We do a “good morning” song every day. We might sing a name song to make them aware of each other’s names. Then we ask questions for a half hour. For example, we might talk about the weather. We might ask about the seasons; how many seasons are there or what season are we in, and how do you dress for that season? Or we might ask how many children are here today. They look around and count. And I might say, if you have X amount of boys and X amount of girls, how many do we have all together? That is part of our math lesson. Then the teacher takes over.

How do you assist the teacher?
I prepare material to give to the children. Sometimes we might cut out words from a printed workbook sheet and put them together with glue. Sometimes we cut out the words with our hand guiding the child’s hand. The children then try to identify the word. You teach them how to spell it and then ask them to make a sentence with it. Take the word “cold.” A little girl learned to spell it. I told her I’m so proud of her. Then she made a sentence and showed what it means by making a shivering action.

What techniques work for you?
My children learn by repetition. So you repeat the same thing every day and you get results. I have one little girl who would cry every day. Now, she is speaking. And from constant repetition, she can spell her name and write it. I had another student who loved the word “hop.” I would teach him to spell the word day after day.
And I use common sense. I stay calm and don’t try to rush the child. Sometimes I use humor. I try to make them as comfortable as I can.

What about physical activity?
Every day we go to the gym. The children love it. Each child does different things. We have a trampoline for fun. The ones who can walk play basketball and baseball. They learn to recognize numbers that are placed on the ground. They hit the ball and run to No. 1. The next child hits the ball and runs to No. 1 and the first child runs to No. 2.
We take the children who cannot walk out of their wheelchairs and put them on the ground on a mat to stretch.

What is your goal?
My goal is to help each child build their independence to the best of their ability. I respect and love them and I work hard to get them ready to move to another school or another program and be successful. At the end of each day, I feel fulfilled.

Is it hard to work with this population?
We were taught you do not have to have sympathy for the children or to be sad. They are human beings like you and me. Every child is different and every child’s development is different. I keep a good, positive attitude. I accept them for who they are and I treat them like you and me.

Is there ongoing training?
We learn through in-service classes about once a month, here in the building. We learn about things like feeding, and lifting and transferring. And we are taught not to get emotionally attached.

What do you find rewarding?
Hearing “I love you” and “thank you” from my children is rewarding. Or, if I take off a day or two, they will all say, “We miss you so much. Do not go anywhere. Come to work every day, Miss Desiree.” Sometimes I try to study them and figure out what’s going on within them. In their own way, they are smart. Some know more about what is going on, about everyday life, than I do.

— As told to reporter Suzanne Popadin

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