Key school contact

AT WORK

Mary Sampson, a mother of five, maintains family ties at Havre de Grace Elementary

October 17, 2007|By NANCY JONES-BONBREST | NANCY JONES-BONBREST,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mary Sampson

Family liaison, Havre de Grace Elementary School

Harford County public schools

Salary -- $25,000

Age: -- 65

Years on the job -- 25

How she got started -- Sampson didn't start working outside her home until she turned 40. By that time, the youngest of her five children was attending middle school. With experience as both a Girl Scout leader and as children's director at her church, she decided she wanted work with young children and applied to the local elementary school. She was hired as a teacher's aide with a kindergarten class and then worked as a reading instructor for several years. About 15 years ago she took on the job as family liaison for the school.

Typical day -- Sampson organizes and runs the school's book clubs and mentoring program. She also supervises parent and community volunteers. "Anything to do with families, I plan and provide input for."

Her day starts by greeting parents and students as they arrive. She checks attendance and may make calls if someone is out for more than a few days. Sampson then assigns tasks to the volunteers who do a variety of jobs, such as helping out in the classroom. The rest of the day is spent planning, running the book clubs and meeting with students. About three nights out of each month she hosts after-school programs such as reading or math nights.

Sampson also regularly accompanies a teacher, the school's principal, nurse or counselor on home visits.

Her own room --This year Sampson is lucky enough to have her own classroom. But that wasn't always the case. In past years she has shared rooms with as many as four people and set up shop in a closet and on the school stage.

The good --"We have children in our school for six hours a day and we can really make a positive difference. It's the extra things that we can do for our children. As a para-educator, I have the opportunity to provide that."

The bad --Paperwork. Because her position is financed through a federal program, she must be able to account for what she does while she's on the clock. So at the end of each month a detailed "time and effort" sheet must be filled out for each day she worked.

Not being a teacher --She said she thought about going back to school to get her teaching degree, but made the decision early on that it wouldn't work because of obligations to her family and church.

Retirement --"I'm not ready to retire," said Sampson. In recent years she has survived breast cancer and serious back problems but said she feels healthy now. "I'm able to go all day. I love what I do. When the joy goes out of the job, then I'll feel good about retiring."

Working with kids --"We really try to help the children understand that education is so important. They can do anything in their life when they try hard and do their best."

Book clubs --Sampson organizes a breakfast and lunch book club for kindergarten through third grades. The grant program allows parents to come in and read with their children once a week during breakfast or lunch. About 68 families participate in the book club.

Philosophy on the job --"I bring joy to what I do."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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