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Interview with Cindy Van Winkle, Paraeducator

Cindy Van Winkle Interview (MP3 format)

Interview with Cindy Van Winkle
Paraeducator - Special Education, Central Kitsap School District
By Abby Traverse, Daniel Gunther, and Kaeli Davidson

Abby: Hello, my name is Abby Traverse. And today it is my pleasure to interview Ms. Cindy Van Winkle. Could you tell us a little bit of what you do?

Cindy: I am a paraeducator working with visually impaired students in the Central Kitsap School District, which is in the Bremerton-Silverdale area.

Abby: Can you describe a little bit of your job, do you have a daily routine or anything?

Cindy: Sure. I've been working for the school district for ten years. I have been itinerant, which means that I have moved around to different schools where visually impaired students are actually going to school. So sometimes, depending on how many students we have that given year, and where they are going to school, sometimes I might do more traveling than other times. And this year I am working with a pre-schooler in the mornings, and then one afternoon a week, I work with a high school student. And in the afternoon we do a lot of life skills, independent living types of things — cooking, working on skills such as shopping, things like scholarship applications, resume writing, job searching. We've done some apartment hunting, and I've done some computer training using access technology. The main function that I have done in the past is teaching braille. With the pre-schooler, I am doing a lot of pre-braille activities, working with the little boy, learning how to use his fingers and preparing him to read braille.

Abby: So I would guess you need a lot of education for this job?

Cindy: Actually, no. Today in the state of Washington, there has been a law passed that requires somebody who's working with blind students, teaching braille, that they have to pass a braille literacy examination. So I have my certificate taking the braille literacy usage examination here in the state of Washington. And to work as a paraeducator in the state, you now have to have two years of college, or you have to pass a test for paraprofessionals. I do have the two years of college, so I didn't have to take that test. But if you have two years equivalent of college, then you don't have to take the test, and you can become a paraeducator, as long as you have the braille instruction, the certificate part down, then yeah, that's it.

Abby: What made you take this job?

Cindy: To be frankly honest, I was a mom, and I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I had worked in a job previous to this that I didn't love, and I was working in a machine shop at the Lighthouse for the Blind. And it wasn't that it wasn't a good place to work, but I'm more of a people person than a machine shop person. And so, at the time I really wanted to be home with my kids, but I needed money. So a friend of mine told me about a job that was coming open and they were looking for someone who knew braille, and I decided: Well, What the heck? I'll give it a shot. So I applied for a job and I got it, and that was in a different school district, and when another job came open, I applied for that and got where I'm working now.

Daniel: This is Daniel, I'm going to continue the interview. Did you have after-school or summer jobs when you were a teenager?

Cindy: No, I didn't have nearly the advantages that kids in the state do right now with the YES program (Youth Employment Solutions). My first job other than babysitting—I did a lot of babysitting as a teenager—my first job was when I was a junior in high school, and I took on a two week job working as an Easter bunny at a local mall. And I think I got the job because I fit into the costume. I had my picture taken 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for two weeks, and let me tell you, that costume was warm, especially the head. [Laughs] That was where I first made a paycheck, and then when we moved up here, I did not work for quite a few years, so I was about in my early twenties when I started working at the Lighthouse.

Daniel: What would you say that you enjoy the most about your job?

Cindy: I think that it's because I'm blind myself, in working with blind and visually impaired students. I think that it's the mentoring that I do, the opportunity to work one-on-one with those students. I take it very seriously, and end up working a lot with not only the student, but their families. I know that they look to me, and it's an honor, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I think that probably one of the greatest rewards is when my students have applied for scholarships, for example through WCB, and come to receive scholarships, like one of them will tomorrow night, one of my graduating students, or when another student of mine—and actually a couple of them are actually participating in this youth conference this weekend—that makes me feel really good to see their growth and involvement.

Daniel: You said you're a people person. Would you say that your personality matches your job?

Cindy: To some degree it does. I think that my position as president of Washington Council of the Blind probably matches my personality more. I'm very much a people person, I love socializing. But I'm very organized, I like doing leadership types of things, training and being around people, and making sure everybody's happy. So this convention is a busy place, but that's my personality, keeping busy.

Kaeli: My name is Kaeli, and I'm going to do the last part of the interview. How do you get to work on a day-to-day basis?

Cindy: Well, in the past when I was going to a lot of schools, I used our local transit access, bus service, door-to-door service. Currently, the school that I go to is so close to my house, and one of my co-workers picks me up in the morning, because she has to drive by my house, so that's really convenient. And then, I either take the bus or my husband or my daughter might give me a ride if they're feeling nice.

Kaeli: How do you read and write at your job?

Cindy: I use JAWS for Windows on the computer at work. So any communications with other people, that's what I use, because most of the people that I work with are sighted and they wouldn't appreciate it if I sent them braille notes. Usually it's via e-mail, and usually it's using JAWS. But I also do a lot of braille labeling for my students, so definitely braille is a big part of what I do as well.

Kaeli: How did you decide what accommodations to use?

Cindy: I would say that I wanted equal access, especially for the information as a staff member, and a lot of that information can easily be shared via e-mail. And I knew that getting on the computer would be very important for me to be able to stay in the loop and part of the team, so JAWS for Windows was the option that we went with.

Kaeli: Last question: How did you tell your employer that you were blind?

Cindy: The first time I applied for a job, I did not say anything about being blind. They were looking for somebody to teach braille, so I didn't think that would be a problem. Where it really came up was in the interview process, and obviously I walked in there with a guide dog, and they knew that I was blind. A couple of the questions that I had to field that came out of the blue were things like, "You need to be able to get to multiple buildings in a day, how will you do that?" I didn't know the answer, but I just told them that I knew it was my responsibility, and whether I had to take bus, cab, or work on other ways of transportation, that I would make sure I would be there, and kind of left it at that, and then it wasn't their concern anymore, and I got the job.

Kaeli: Thank you for taking the time to let us interview you. We very, very much appreciate it.

Cindy: Thank you, and the three of you did a nice job.

Interview taken at the Washington State Council of the Blind Convention, November 2006.

Interview provided by Jack Straw Productions, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, Washington State Council of the Blind and the Child and Family Program of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
Copyright © Jack Straw Productions 2006.

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