BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (November 16) – Weakley County Schools employs nearly 140 educational assistants (EAs) in its 10 schools, and one set is really going places. Eight are considered “bus monitors” for Special Education students, assisting when children are entering or exiting the bus, with seat belts and car seats, and helping to ensure that school days start and end well.
Cathy Hopper began her route in the 2021-22 school year. Recently retired and realizing “there is only so much cleaning I can do” she was ready for a new challenge. She and husband Danny were house parents for the North Carolina Baptist Children’s Home for nearly a decade. As a result of the training she received in that role, she was keenly aware of the responsibility but saw saying ‘yes” to fellow EA Jean Perry and bus driver Donnie Gearin’s eager recruitment of her as a means of living out what she feels is a calling.
“Years ago, in Vacation Bible School, they asked us to write a paper on what we wanted to do when we grew up. I wrote that I wanted to help children who were not as fortunate as I am. It will always be in my heart to work with special children,” she said.
Monday through Friday, a few minutes before 6 a.m., Gearin drives one street over in Gleason and retrieves Hopper, his neighbor. They usually have eight students to get to either Westview or Sharon School each day and take 10 home in the afternoon. Hopper is back in her house by 8 a.m. each morning, leaves again just after 1 p.m. for the after-school run, and returns to Gleason by 3:45 p.m.
For approximately four hours daily on duty, she receives $10.85 per hour, but she gains far more than a paycheck.
“I enjoy it. I really do. It’s a big responsibility but it doesn’t bother me. It’s a blessing,” she explained and added, with enthusiasm, how the students started their new relationship quietly but have since opened up.
“One little girl who wasn’t speaking is now talking to me and she is learning so much and is always smiling,” Hopper reported with obvious pride in the girl’s academic growth.
Hopper praises her driver as well as their riders.
“Donnie has a place in his heart too. He knows how it is. This is their happy time, and we always try to make sure they have a good morning. We want them to enjoy it but be safe,” she concluded.
Deborah Perkins, Supervisor of Special Education, hopes to find more educational assistants/bus monitors who would like to receive some of the “blessings” Hopper describes.
“Like so many in the area, we are in need of personnel,” said Perkins. “But we believe there are individuals who are retired or who want to work on a similar schedule to their school-aged children, that would benefit from being a part of our program.”
For more information, see Employment Opportunities at www.weakleyschools.com.