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Hero in Education - Jennifer Romano: Educational assistant goes extra mile for student

Romano nurtures an inclusive environment at Chief Dan George Middle School for boy with autism
Romano and her student, Griffin, who she met when he was still in elementary school (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

Jennifer Romano’s ideology is “build trust by building a relationship,” and by doing so she has greatly impacted not only the life of her students, but many others around her.

“We need more educational assistants like Jennifer,” Godson Elementary vice-principal Joseph Frew said. “We need educational assistants that allow the children to express who they are without restriction and allow them to grow on their terms.”

Both Frew and Romano worked at Terry Fox Elementary before their current positions. That is where they met Romano’s current student, Griffin, and Frew got to witness her patience, kindness, and unwavering commitment to help students achieve.

Romano knew she wanted to work with children, so after her own children were older, she went back to school to become an educational assistant. She has formal training to work with students who have diverse needs, and she has been able to translate that to Griffin, who has autism and is non-verbal.

“Working with students with diversities quickly became a passion,” Romano said. “Through one specific student, I became very passionate about inclusion and communication differences.”

She has been Griffin’s dedicated educational assistant for two years now, and he has grown dramatically through the bond they have created. The seventh-grader is now vocalizing sounds and using facial expressions, body signs and even sign language. She understands that people have different ways of communicating, and she has put in the time and effort to understand him.

Romano has been described as “innovative and adaptable” – two traits she put into use in September at the Terry Fox Run.

Griffin loves to run, and decided he was going to do the full course – instead of the modified option – during the race. Romano, in her sandals and flowery pants, ran with a smiling Griffin all the way to the finish line and was greeted by a cheering section.

Romano believes it is important to give students choices and follow their lead, which is exactly what she did.

Eager to foster Griffin’s love for running, she signed him up for the cross country team at the school.

“If he loves to run, how else can we show inclusion? Let’s put him on the team,” Romano said.

Although the cross country race was not all that they had hoped for, Griffin enjoyed himself and had the chance to compete with his peers.

Griffin’s mother, Susan, can’t say enough about the impact Romano has made on their family.

“When I knew Jen was going to be working with him, I could breathe a sigh of relief,” she said. “I can see the difference in him and the happiness when he goes to school. I don’t want her to ever leave him.”

Romano has gone above and beyond for other students too, advocating for a space in the school that children who are not involved in the resource room program can use.

Griffin, along with a few other students with diverse needs, have found this space as a haven. Romano’s desire for inclusion is the reason for the space, but she also credits the great learning support team and the staff at Chief Dan George Middle School for their continuous work.

Romano has shown a constant progression of growth and professionalism. But for her, going the extra mile is who she is.

“Griffin’s not here for me; I’m here for him,” Romano said. “I am going to be here for whatever he needs.”

READ MORE: Heroes in Education 2024

About the Author: Ryleigh Mulvihill

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