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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Ford, a special-education paraprofessional for Perritt Primary School in the Arkadelphia School District, was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 10 years old. She was recently named the district’s Classified Employee of the Year. - Photo by Sam Pierce

Growing up, Karen Ford watched her mom, Roxine Ford, care for and raise her older brother, Patrick Glover, who is autistic. She said she saw the work her mom put in as a single parent and getting him to where he is today.

“Along with the teachers he had growing up, it just always seemed really rewarding to me,” Karen Ford said.

Ford, who works as a special-education paraprofessional for the Arkadelphia School District, was recently named the district’s Classified Employee of the Year.

“I consider it an honor,” Ford said. “I just enjoy the work that I do, so to be recognized for it is an honor.

“I feel like I am called to do what I do.”

Ford joined the district four years ago at Perritt Primary School. Chris Babb, communications director for the school district, said “words frequently used to describe Ms. Nelson include kind, compassionate and thoughtful.”

“Her calm and pleasant demeanor has a way of calming even the most difficult students,” he said.

Ford, who has worked in special education for 12 years, said she wanted to make the switch to Arkadelphia because she wanted a different atmosphere.

“Before I came here, I worked with preschool-age kids who were going into kindergarten, and now it is kindergarten and first grade,” Ford said.

Ford primarily works as an assistant in the self-contained classroom for special-

needs children and works alongside the teachers to try to incorporate the kids into the classroom as well.

“I enjoy seeing the kids grow,” Ford said. “I enjoy the strong relationship that I see between my co-workers and the kids as well. There is a big closeness in Arkadelphia that I really like.”

Ford graduated from Camden Fairview High School in 1996. She attended college at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia for a time before earning her degree in early-childhood education at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana in 2014.

“Karen does a fabulous job in everything she does here,” Perritt Primary principal Callie Hunley said. “She’s just a jewel. She not only tends to her students but takes time to give attention to every student with whom she comes in contact in our school.

“She is just a wonderful person and such a big plus to our staff at Perritt. She is very deserving of the honor and recognition that come with an award such as this.”

“My challenge that I see is at the beginning of the school year,” Ford said, “trying to get the kids into a routine, and that could be said for all kids, across the board. Our kids sometimes struggle to get into a routine, and then we have to stick to it.

“That’s really been our challenge.”

Ford said she is used to it. She said sometimes she has to contact the parents if the child is having an especially difficult time.

“We try to incorporate what they do at home and their routine, to try to make them more comfortable with being in a different environment,” Ford said.

Ford, 40, lives in Arkadelphia with her two daughters, Chelsey, 7, and Sydney, 6, whom she just officially adopted last week.

“It has been great,” Ford said. “I had to have them for six months for the provisional time, and it has been excellent.

“They are really sweet girls.”

She said adopting children is something she has always wanted to do. She never had any children when she was married, and after being divorced for 13 years, she finally made the decision to adopt.

Ford, who was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 10 years old, said the disease doesn’t slow her down at work. Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. She said most of the kids just ask about it one time, then never bring it up again.

“They said it is not hereditary, but I have a twin sister (Sharon Ford), and she has it,” Ford said. “And my sister’s 13-year-old daughter has it as well.

“But we are the only ones in our family who have it.”

Having been with the Arkadelphia School District for four years, Ford has seen kids move up. While she doesn’t work with the other paraprofessionals on a daily basis, she said she does make herself available in case there are any difficulties with the child moving up.

“It is bittersweet,” Ford said. “I feel like I form an attachment with them. It is hard to let them go, but just to see the progress they have made from day 1 to after being there for two years, I feel like they are ready to move on.

“I usually keep in touch with them and check on them at the other schools and with the parents to see how well they are doing.”

Ford said she believes she was chosen for the award because of the relationship she has with the children.

“Also, my willingness to help out in various capacities within the building,” she said. “I will help out with PE, music and art. I will also assist the other students as well, if they need it.

“I just love being around kids.”

The other 2018 Classified Employees of the Year winners are as follows:

Office/Support Staff

Zina Bailey

Zina Bailey has served the district for 21 years in a duel role. She is housed at Goza Middle School, where she works in the counselor’s office and also serves as the district’s E-school administrator. She has the task of managing data and coordinating state-required cycle reporting. E-school is a software system the district uses for educational, financial and administrative purposes. Parents can track grades, teachers report grades, and administrators keep up with finances through the system.

Food Service

Barbara Baker

Barbara Baker joined the district in 2002 and works at Central Primary School. Babb said she is known for her cheerful and friendly attitude that she projects toward children and adults.

“She has been described as one of the nicest people in the district and possesses the gift of being able to uplift the spirits of anyone in her presence,” he said.

Transportation

James Williams

James Williams has driven a bus for the school district for 37 years and has taught math for 33 years.

“Mr. Williams always has a friendly smile, hug or wave to share,” Babb said. “He is known for his professional and courteous interactions with students and colleagues alike.”

Custodial/Maintenance

Rachel Davis

Rachel Davis joined the Perritt Primary School staff in 2011. Babb said Davis considers anyone coming to the school a guest and greets students with a smile and a positive attitude.

“She takes pride in her work, and it shows in the exemplary quality of her work,” Babb said. “She happily sits with students who do not have an adult present at the Good Citizen Breakfast.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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