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Helping children most rewarding part of her job

Her specialty is taking care of others.

She first began her working career at South Boston Clinic assisting doctors, but deep inside, Libby Slagle knew her calling was to help children.

For 32 years Slagle has been working with students in grades kindergarten to second grade as a paraprofessional. She is currently employed at South Boston Elementary working as a SPED paraprofessional.

“I worked for 20 years at South of Dan Elementary, six years at Washington-Coleman, and I’ve been here six years (since the opening),” said Slagle.

She said it all began after she offered to substitute when her two boys were attending South of Dan Elementary.

“I told Mike Wilborne I’d substitute if they needed me. He called me and said do you want to sub, it could be a few weeks,” said Slagle. “And that was 32 years ago.” 

She never looked back.

According to Slagle, working with young children and watching them as they learn to spell their name and grasp each thing they learn is the most rewarding part of her job.

She begins her workday by coming in early, nearly an hour before the students. She helps unload the students from the buses and makes sure they all make it into the school safely, then she has hall duty some days and works between two classrooms assisting the children as needed.

“I am here to help a child who needs extra help. I am here to help,” said Slagle.

In the past three decades she has experienced many changes. The sizes of classrooms, the way students are classified, and even the behavior in students has changed, said Slagle.

Even though Slagle said she enjoys every part of her job, if she had to choose one part she didn’t favor, it would be the behavior of some of the students.

“They just aren’t trained at home like they used to be,” said Slagle. 

However, she manages.

She confessed through the years she’s had chairs, pencils and other items thrown at her, but most days they just want to “hug you,” Slagle added.

“You grow attached to them. You’d be surprised how through the years they remember you. Some of them just want to hug you, and that’s okay too. I like hugs every day,” said Slagle.

Working as a SPED paraprofessional has its challenges, but Slagle admits it’s a very rewarding job.

Although students are no longer “labeled,” and the SPED children are included with other students, Slagle encounters students with autism, developmentally delayed, physical handicaps and other learning disabilities.

“I work with all of the children. No one is treated any different, but kids can pick up on things,” said Slagle.

It’s no secret to the tenured paraprofessional that budget cuts are looming in the school system, but she is quick to tell school administration “these children need this extra little bit. The teachers need the extra help” that her position as a paraprofessional provides. 

“I don’t just run copies. That’s what so many people seem to think. I work hard I can assure you. Just follow me for one day,” she joked.

When she’s not taking care of elementary students at South Boston Elementary, she’s busy taking care of her family. Slagle resides in South Boston with her husband, Roger. They have two sons and one daughter, Roger Jr., Charles and Elizabeth, and one grandson, Shane.

Slagle has no current plans for retirement and speaks very highly of her South Boston family.

“I enjoy the people I work with. I work with great people, and we really are one big happy family,” Slagle concluded.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of an occasional series The Gazette-Virginian is publishing this year spotlighting unsung heroes in the education arena.