When a member of the educational team has a habit of going above and beyond, legends are born. And for teacher assistant Kathy Bellinger, the stories abound.
“I'll never forget the time she rented a limo so the students knew what it was like to ride in one,” says director of special education, Barb Sealy. “Kathy bakes for kids to celebrate their birthdays when nothing comes in from home,” says principal Jen Hayes. “A few years ago a kitten was found under our [playground] pirate ship,” says Mrs. Bellinger’s team teacher Becky Ring. “He was lost and hungry, and when no one else stepped up, Kathy offered to take him home. After a trip to the vets, where she spent an exorbitant amount of money, Rocky, as he was named, became a new addition to her family.”
Treating her students and team members like family is standard operating procedure for Mrs. Bellinger, a teaching assistant in the third grade special education classroom at Kensington Road elementary. In her official role, she provides direct instruction, helps with the day-to-day needs of running the classroom smoothly, communicates with related service providers about her children's needs or issues, and designs materials and strategies that will give students the opportunity to be successful. Those duties alone would easily take up all her time, but as is her habit, she expends herself even further for her students.
“The most unique thing in my day is greeting the students off the bus each day,” Mrs. Bellinger says. “I am with them for breakfast, which gives me a chance to talk with each one of them to see how their evening/morning went at home. This allows me to get them whatever help they may need, so they can have a successful day at school.”
“She consistently puts children first and advocates on their behalf when necessary,” says Mrs. Hayes. “Kathy gets here early every morning and stays late. If she feels there is a child in need, the clock doesn't matter.”
Mrs. Ring agrees. “She is very empathetic and caring for every child she comes in contact with.” Mrs. Bellinger says it is most rewarding when she sees a student meet with success, “whether it be academically, behaviorally, socially-emotionally, or increased independence.”
Those successes are due in part to Mrs. Bellinger’s “huge heart when it comes to students,” but are also supported by her years of continuing education and expertise.
She has been with Glens Falls City Schools for 28 years, having graduated from Vincentian Institute and SUNY Albany. She has taken nearly three decades-worth of trainings in sign language, TCI certification, CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) classes, and Chromebook training, just to name a few. “Kathy is wise beyond her years, and has probably been through every training available for paraprofessionals since 1980,” says Mrs. Sealy. “I have been very fortunate to have had the chance to work with such professional, knowledgeable, and caring educators over the 28 years I have been with GFSD,” says Mrs. Bellinger. “I have always felt like I was an integral part of whatever team I was working with.”
Her colleagues say she loves the students like a parent, knowing when to be hard and when to be soft—a practice she’s had plenty of opportunity to develop at home. “My husband Tom and I, along with our biological son Sean, were a Foster Family to many children for several years,” Mrs. Bellinger says. “We adopted two boys (one Developmentally Disabled) giving us three 8-year-old siblings. They grew to be very close.”
When she isn’t at school, she spends as much time with her grandchildren and nieces and nephews as she can—undoubtedly creating even more stories to be told. After all, being “one of the most generous, kind, caring, and professional teaching assistants in the district” takes more than just hard work. It takes heart. And Kathy Bellinger has lots of that.