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Para-educator does it for the smiles

"When a teacher needs a copy made or a ream of orange construction paper delivered to a classroom at the South Whidbey Intermediate School, that teacher calls Marty Buckman.When a student can't find a friend on the playground, she calls Marty Buckman.And when anybody at a school needs chocolate to chase away a case of the blues, it's time to call Marty Buckman.For all these things and more, Buckman -- a para-educator at the intermediate school -- received Western Washington University's Award for Professional Excellence. Buckman was just one of two para-educators statewide who received the award, which is one of the state's most prestigious for educators.A staff member at the school for the past five years, Buckman is one of the people who makes recess fun and safe for the school's 490 students. She also helps keep the school humming by running its supply room, copy machines, and filling in at the school's front desk.She did not know she was a candidate for the award or a winner until Monday morning, March 27, when during a staff meeting her co-workers handed her a three-ring binder covered with photographs of her at work and filled with letters of recommendation. The Western award was completely unexpected.I was just speechless, which I'm not very often, Buckman said.Part of the reason the honor came as such a shock is that Buckman has never thought of her job as one that has anything to do with peer recognition or awards. Whether she working to keep kids, teachers, or school support staff stay on task, she said her reward comes simply from giving a helping hand. That goes double for the kids.I do it for the smiles on their faces and the gleam in their eyes, Buckman said.When working in her role as a recess supervisor, Buckman does everything from organizing softball and soccer games to reminding students to play safely. She enforces the school's no put-downs rule by nipping any teasing in the bud. And, she helps students find friends. Recently, a student approached Buckman during a recess period, saying he could not find a friend. She told him that simply was not true.Don't I count? she asked him, even as she matched him up with two other boys looking for playmates.While on the school's grassy fields, Buckman is often the students' best friend, even if she cannot remember all of their nearly 500 names.There's a lot of kiddos out there, she said.Back inside the school during class hours, Buckman is as much a needed friend for adult staff members as she is for the students. Sometimes, her co-workers don't need so much as a word for Buckman to add some cheer to their day -- they just head for a basket near the copy machine that Buckman keeps full of chocolate.It's not coffee, it's candy that gets them through, Buckman said.Buckman has actually been a fixture in the school district for about seven years. She started working as a volunteer in the schools when her son first entered primary school. During those volunteer years, she received the district's Golden Acorn Award, an honor given to community members who give their time and talent to the students.Buckman said it will take a little time to recover from receiving her award and so many compliments from co-workers, students, and parents. While she does, she may have more energy on the playground than even the kids can handle."

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