When describing Anne Marie Murphy and Georgina Cabrera, the superlatives came naturally. “Tireless.” “Dedicated.” “Selfless.”
In other words, “paraeducators.”
The Paraeducators as Partners annual conference November 14 paid special tribute to Murphy, who died 11 months earlier in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. Cabrera, of Moses Y. Beach Elementary School in Wallingford, was honored at the conference as the first statewide Anne Marie Murphy Paraeducator of the Year. Murphy received the same award, posthumously.
These honors reflected the exceptional work of both Cabrera and Murphy, yet the praise did not end with them. The conference, sponsored by the CT State Department of Education and the State Education Resource Center, was an occasion to recognize that words like “dedicated” and “selfless” exemplified the work of paraeducators as a whole.
“I’m just one of you,” Cabrera said upon receiving the award, addressing the other 200-plus paraeducators at the conference. “All of us are the best.”
Twenty-four of the paraeducators, including Murphy and Cabrera, also were awarded Paraeducator of the Year of their individual school districts.
The School Paraprofessional Advisory Council established the awards, which were given for the first time at the 2012 conference and were rechristened in 2013 with Murphy’s name.
“Anne loved her job,” her husband, Michael Murphy, told the crowd at the 2013 conference. “And there is nothing she would do different. I believe most of you love your job as well.”
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor noted how Cabrera compared being a paraeducator to “being in wonderland” and “a great adventure.” This clearly embodies the spirit intended in naming the award after Murphy, Pryor said.
“You make the day shiny to all who surround you every day,” he told Cabrera.
Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman read an official statement from the governor honoring Murphy and congratulating Cabrera “for your energy and exceptional dedication to your students.”
Cabrera arrived from Chile to the United States 18 years ago without knowing English. She now helps support native Spanish-speaking students throughout Moses Beach School, which includes students from pre-K to Grade 2.
In an interview, Cabrera said she loves working with children at an age when they seem to absorb everything, including a new language. She often serves as a link between teachers and students and their Spanish-speaking families.
Cabrera’s daughter Valentina, who turns 20 in December and who attended Moses Beach as a child, said she has long observed her mother being a sort of paraeducator to adults in the school as well, from the nurse to the secretary. “She does her best to do anything she can, any way she can, to anyone she can,” her daughter said.
That spirit of giving increasingly typifies paraeducators’ wide-ranging roles. Keynote speaker Perri Murdica, director of pupil services in Southington, offered testimonials from teachers about what paraeducators meant to them, such as: “The work they do goes above and beyond any job description out there.”
As a result, the individuals performing that job are often best described in superlatives.