COLUMBIA — During the lunch hour at Cedar Ridge Elementary School, teachers don't have to rush around to keep children in line.
For the past four years, Principal Angie Chandler has offered employment to local women as playground or lunchroom supervisors.
On the playground, one supervisor with a radio on her hip, peers across the yard looking out for any trouble. Another smiles and laughs as she plays four-square with a group of boys.
Like ushers in a movie theater, the Cedar Ridge supervisors guide the children to their lunch seats. Talking is allowed in the cafeteria at Cedar Ridge, so supervisors can gain the children’s trust and confidence.
The women help the children get their lunch and breakfast, clean up after meals and supervise the playground. The women spend two hours a day at the school.
Everything is legally coordinated through the school district, which offers a certain amount of money to each school for supervisory hours, Chandler said.
Chandler wants to give these women, most of whom are mothers of children at the school, the opportunity to get some work experience, as well as on-the-job training.
“The more moms that I bring in from all walks of life, and if I can help them help themselves and us, it’s a win-win situation,” Chandler said.
Chandler said those women have the desire to better themselves, but the job opportunities aren’t always out there.
“That’s what I saw was something that really bothered these moms was that they wanted to do better, but there were just no opportunities,” Chandler said. “The job markets just really tough out there, and over here they’re already connected to us, they have an in, because they know me, because I know their child.”
The program also benefits teachers..
“The teachers don’t have to give up any time to do duty,” Chandler said. “I can have other people come in and do that lunch and supervise, so the teachers can have their duty-free lunch. That frees up the teachers so that legally they can have their duty free lunch and planning time.”
One woman fondly calls the work experience the Chandler Program, though it doesn’t have an official name.
There is room for advancement through the program. After working at the school for a time the mothers may choose to become para-professionals if there is an opening.
Deann Washington, a Columbia mother, took a test offered by the Columbia School District and was then certified to work with disabled children in the classroom. She generally stays with one child all day, helping them with special needs.
Washington enjoys coming to work everyday and spending time with the kids. She now works at Cedar Ridge full-time.
“It’s just a good place to be and I love being here and it’s made me feel a lot of self-worth,” Washington said.
This year is Vickie Robinson’s first to work at Cedar Ridge. She said every day is a new learning experience with the kids.
As soon as a position opens up, Robinson will apply for a para-professional job. She is currently studying for the test.
Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education, helped build the program.
“Our parents who volunteer or work for us, as in this case, have a deeper appreciation for the work our teachers do and we get a deeper understanding for our families,” Stiepleman said.
Cedar Ridge is not currently looking playground supervisors, but the opportunity could come soon. The school is working to advance people to offer new positions.
“Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you’re gonna be great with kids,” Chandler said, in response to the central idea surrounding this program. “Just because you don’t have a degree doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do some of these things for kids.”