PIP room full of new faces

Several new staff members have come to ARHS to work in the Pathways to Independence Program (PIP), for students with developmental disabilities, located in room 167. The program aims to enrich students’ lives, provide valuable programming, and create feelings of happiness and success in every school day.

Chris Kusek is the new coordinator of the program, meaning that he helps fit together all of the different services that the students receive and supports the staff in any way he can. Prior to working at the high school, he worked at aThe Center School for Crisis Intervention which was a special education school. Before that, he was a teacher at Franklin Tech.

“[This job] seemed like a perfect mix to use all of my experiences,” Mr. Kusek said. He loves working with the students and designing systems that help teachers and paraeducators. Mr. Kusek spends his time outside of work with his two young daughters and also loves free time in the woods, hiking, and swimming.

Becky Adams is a new physical therapy assistant in PIP. Before working at the high school she worked at Southbridge Public Schools. Ms. Adams took the job at the high school because she saw it as an opportunity to work with students. “I’ve always wanted to work with people,” Ms. Adams said. One of her favorite things about her job is her co workers. “They really just make my job so much more fun,” she said. When Adams isn’t at the high school helping students, she loves spending time with her kids.

Tia Burris is a certified nursing assistant this year in PIP. Before finding her way to the high school, Ms Burris worked in nursing homes. Her desire to work directly with the students is what brought her to PIP. Ms. Burris didn’t always know that this is where she wanted to be in life but she describes joining PIP as “a combination of both loving the kids and loving helping them.”

“I provide direct staff care for a specific student but I am always a helping hand when other students need me,” said Ms. Burris. Her life outside of her job consists of making music and spending time with her friends and family.

Crystal Colon worked at the middle school in the BCL program. She was then placed in PIP and since it was similar to what she used to do, she was ready. She enjoys the dance parties that they have within the PIP program, and she also appreciates their meditation sessions.

“I’ve always wanted to help people but I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take,” Ms. Colon said. However, after working in the program she fell in love with the job. “I’m a caretaker and also an educator,” she said. She also loves advocating. She spends her time away from work at the gym or playing basketball and coaching.

Prior to joining the PIP program last year, another paraeducator, Roberta Griffin, worked at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield. Now that she’s at the high school, one of her favorite things at work is “seeing the students smile” and when they “make me laugh.” Ms. Griffin wasn’t always sure that this was the career she wanted to pursue but she’s glad she did. She sees herself as “a team player for both staff and students.”

When she isn’t in the classroom, she’s working her other job maintaining her nursing certification. She also has two adult children and she is a hostess for Genuine Culture that puts on music and different events within the Holyoke community.

Before working at the high school, paraeducator Keishla Rotger worked at the public library in Springfield. She is now a member of the PIP team. “All teens and young adults are individuals with the right to learn,” said Ms Rotger. She enjoys encouraging the students towards independence and self-awareness.

She didn’t know this is where she would end up, but said she loves the path of education, where she can be both “a supporter and a guide.” She also works to ensure student safety, to promote positive thinking, and to encourage student participation. Outside of work she likes reading, working out, cleaning, catching up with friends, teaching the Bible, and tutoring spanish. On top of all of that, she tends to her family.

Carol Wilson, another new PIP staffer, worked as a paraeducator at Pelham Elementary School in grades K-5 and she also taught preschool while she was there. Ms. Wilson recently changed her licensure from K-5 to 6-12, which enabled her to  work at the high school. “We wear many hats in this program,” she said. “Everyday is different and there is a new surprise. I’ve enjoyed building relationships with the students and staff,” Ms. Wilson said.

Ms. Wilson is married, has five kids in total, and three of them live at home. She said she has a lot of family responsibilities, and she spends time “doing research for my graduate thesis, walking my dog, cooking, reading, and spending time with my family.”

Welcome, new PIP staff!