Position: Intervention Paraprofessional
School: Oakhurst Elementary School
School District: City Schools of Decatur
City, State: Decatur, Georgia
About the Nominee: Artesha Chaney was nominated by her colleague, Debbie Lester.
Artesha Chaney works every day to change the lives of those in her community. She has been a fixture in the Decatur community for years, and her positive impact on the lives of others is constant.
Ms. Chaney goes above and beyond in her duties a paraprofessional at Oakhurst Elementary School. This was the first year her colleague and nominator, Debbie Lester, had the opportunity to work closely with her and see for herself (although others have repeatedly sung her praises) the profound effect Ms. Chaney has, not only on Oakhusrt students, but the adults around her as well. Ms. Lester had always heard how amazing Ms. Chaney was - how kind, how generous, how patient she was - from both students and teachers. These words can't begin to describe her. She is the most unassuming person Ms. Lester has ever met. She is honest, gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, and believes in giving as many chances as it takes for a person to get it right. Ms. Chaney takes the time to dig deeper and find out why someone is hurting or needs help, and then makes it her mission to make a difference. She continuously gives everything, and asks for nothing in return.
Ms. Lester worked with her and another co-teacher, Eleanor Ball, during this past school year in the inclusive classroom, which is comprised of both general education students and those with special needs. Their goal was for all students to know that not only do they matter, but that they all deserve an opportunity to learn in a nurturing, supportive environment with their peers. Ms. Chaney not only kept the students on track, but she consistently encouraged them, followed Individualized Education Plans, and gave countless hugs when they were needed. More often than not, she gave up her own lunchtime to work with a student or to help someone feel better. She has a special connection with many of her students, particularly those with special needs, and is usually the one person in a classroom who can provide peace to an angry student or can provide that extra push to help another student gain enough confidence to do a little more. She loves learning right along with the students, and her enthusiasm for each and every one of their unique qualities is hard to find. Ms. Chaney is a professional to the core, and her colleagues were thrilled to evaluate her as such when called upon to do it this school year.
Ms. Chaney is what many would refer to as “all-in.” She never misses a dress up day at school; in her mind, it would be a missed opportunity to connect with even more students. She spends her own money on items for Oakhurst students, as well as those in the after-school program she works for once she leaves for the day. Then there are the soccer games, birthday parties, and other events she attends during her free time. If she can’t make a party, she will bring the student a gift. She has special smiles for them all. More importantly, each student knows there is at least one person who values them for themselves – Ms. Chaney.
Her gift for building relationships with students doesn’t stop there. She works tirelessly at Oakhurst to foster the same relationships with colleagues and parents as well. Her thoughtfulness for others is amazing, and she truly makes those around her feel special. Having a hard day? Expect chocolate and a sweet card. Feeling stressed with not enough time to do it all? Ms. Chaney will be there, sacrificing her own time to help someone else.
When Ms. Chaney leaves her job at Oakhurst around 3:30, four days a week, she begins her second job for Decatur Recreation, working with children ranging in ages 5-18, and often staying there until 9:00 p.m. The program at Ebster where she works is open to all, but primarily serves students in the nearby housing authority. Her Fridays and Saturdays are often spent working with children through the program, attending events and organizing activities as well.
Ms. Chaney does not have a car. Most days, she walks almost 2 miles to school and another mile to her second job, even when issues with her health have made it difficult for her to do so. Even still, it is clear she has a purpose - to change the lives of all those she comes in contact with for the better. And although she has been steadily saving to buy a car, she would give her last penny if it meant it made someone’s day or even life better.
The world is ever changing, and it is become increasingly more difficult to connect with students and provide the emotional support so many of them are craving. This is Ms. Chaney’s gift, and she has done so much to change the lives of many, many children throughout her life. Yes, the world is changing, but it is a much better place to live with Ms. Chaney in it. She is a treasure and should be celebrated for the LifeChanger she is and inspires everyone else to be each and every day.