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Staff Focus: Clara Hendrick, Alternative Education Paraeducator, Laurel Woods Elementary School

December 9th, 2019

Clara Hendrick standing in front of her school.

Laurel Woods Elementary School Alternative Education Paraeducator Clara Hendrick can summarize her career’s inspiration with: “I’ve always been drawn to children who have difficulties in the classroom, to helping those who need a little extra.” She follows a long line of educators in her family and first discovered her love of children by growing up in a large family and teaching Sunday school.

Prior to HCPSS, Hendrick taught middle school English in Virginia as a continuing substitute and worked with Arc of Howard County to support parents of children with disabilities. She also devoted her time raising her own three children.

She joined HCPSS, and specifically Laurel Woods, 22 years ago, first as a special education assistant before switching to her current role. When Hendrick started at Laurel Woods, she said, “There was a student who trained me for the position. He needed so much, and I had to learn to give him what he needed.” Small changes in her behavior—such as approaching him from the front, making eye contact and respecting when he needed quiet time—enabled them to better connect. “When trust was established, he gradually let me into his world. I carry forward those lessons today,” she continued.

Clara Hendrick working with students.

As an alternative education paraeducator, Hendrick works closely with students in need of additional supports managing their behaviors. Subsequently, she collaborates with teachers with developing the most effective strategies to reach those students. Her day is full with goal setting breakfasts with her students, check-in conversations with additional students throughout the school, homework review, classroom visits, parent communication and generally “whatever we can do to establish positive, meaningful relationships,” she said.

Hendrick has also been a key member in developing Laurel Woods’ capacity as a restorative school, which emphasizes building positive and inclusive school communities. She first got hooked on the concept at last year’s staff book club, and has since gone through several trainings and helped facilitate community circles to discuss peer interactions and kindness in the 5th grade classroom. She has already seen an impact from restorative practices, with students finding their voice and the deepening of educator/student relationships—including the connections with her own students.

Clara Hendrick working with a staff member.

If that wasn’t enough, Hendrick also helps with many of the school’s collaborative problem solving teams and extracurricular programs, including PBIS to incentivize students to succeed and Girls on the Run, which promotes female empowerment. Notably, all of Hendrick’s students participate in the new BFLY (Forever Love Yourself) weekly lunch group, where she supports them in activities that “help them see they can be a positive asset to the school community.”

“The children make me a better person, and I hope I pay it forward,” Hendrick said. “It’s about meeting them where they are and moving them forward one day at a time, showing them all their possibilities.”

Tiffani Peguese, Black Student Achievement Program achievement liaison, works closely with Hendrick on restorative efforts and the BFLY group. She said: “We call her Mama Clara because she’s the type of person who’s always been about relationships. She is all about high love, high support and high expectations. She gets to understand the students she works with and helps elevate them and harness the abilities they have. Students, teachers—we all love our Clara.”