What’s happening in this classroom is much more than just a game. 

These students are learning life lessons, how to communicate, cope and respond to challenging situations. 

“So my goal is to stop them from going the special ed route,” said Alexis Mathias, a paraeducator at Clara Barton Elementary School in Fargo. “So I will meet with them and try to find modifications, either behavior plans or social skills on push into the classroom and to help them to stop the behavior before it escalated and more. And I help the teachers figure out a solution to helping as well.”

The game, like UNO, allows Mathias, our 2020 North Dakota United Education Support Specialist of the Year, to work with students on social skills and how to act in different situations. 

“We try to play as much as we can to learn because a lot of kids, elementary kids learn better through play than worksheets,” Mathias said. “But we do other things. Also, we do work on strategies and   techniques and we do a roundtables and talk about things that might work for one versus the other. So they brainstorm together, which is kind of fun to see them give strategies to each other, too.” 

Mathias is a behavior specialist, the calm in the storm, working with students dealing with trauma. She says behaviors come in many different ways and are never planned. 

“I always try to dig deeper and figure out what’s behind everything,” she said. “They’re doing it because I truly believe that when you act out or do something with behavior, it’s a way to communicate. So there’s something that they’re trying to get across. Even though it may not be the most loving, affectionate ways, but there is something that they’re trying to say to you or get you to know.” 

Relationships are at the heart of everything Mathias does as a behavior technician. Her reward comes from watching her students learn and grow. 

“So I think you got to keep it in a positive light,” Mathias said. “They know I can’t take this seriously with them because they don’t ever mean it in a negative way. So I just love the light bulb moments. Almost like when they’re learning those skills and you see them trying and they’re making e-mail a little bit. A success keeps me coming back.”  

With trauma and social and emotional learning impacting classrooms across the state and nation, Mathias says it’s a job she wouldn’t trade for anything and encourages others to consider. 

The thing that I like to tell them is that think about the reasons why you would go into education, because we know the pay isn’t there. Do you love the kids? You like making a difference? If that’s a yes, then jump on because you will enjoy your life. Every day is different. You never have to construct a plan with education and work with kids. Things never go to plan, ever.”