Megan McCormick is a paraeducator — a teacher’s assistant — at Lexington’s Millcreek Elementary. The Fayette County Public Schools employee is passionate about helping students and is pursuing a four-year college degree to further her career..
McCormick, 29, also has Down syndrome. It is a genetic disorder than can result in mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.
“We are very proud of Megan,” Millcreek principal Greg Ross said. “She does a phenomenal job. She does whatever we ask of her.”
McCormick, a 2013 graduate of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, started as a substitute paraeducator, but this school year, she has been hired to work both in a kindergarten classroom and as an assistant in the school’s front office, Ross said.
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In the classroom, Ross said, McCormick works with kids in small groups, maybe helping them with writing or with “staying on task.” He said she works as much as 32 hours a week.
“I do enjoy working with the children at Millcreek,” McCormick said. “My goal is to be a paraeducator with a full-time job, specifically for kindergarten.”
McCormick said she wants to work with typical children and children with disabilities.
“I want them to see how I could be a good role model for them to learn ... and to reach their potential and work hard so they can do things like go to college,” McCormick said. “I want to be their inspiration. Elementary school should be a stepping stone to get the job they want.”
“She just has a heart of gold, Ross said. “She really does desire to do the best job she possibly can. It’s been great for both of us I believe. She’s so reflective. There’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t ask, ‘Dr. Ross, Is there something that I can do better?’ She’s always wanting feedback.”
She has an associate’s degree in education, but to reach her goals as an educator, she has enrolled in the University of Kentucky part-time to earn a four-year degree, probably in liberal studies.
McCormick also works Saturdays for the learning program at the Down Syndrome Association of Central Kentucky. She works with a special education teacher as the paraeducator for that program.
McCormick’s parents, physicians James and Malkanthie McCormick of Lexington, have always concentrated on Megan’s strengths and have had high expectations for her, as they did their other children. She lives in an apartment in their basement. After graduating from BCTC, she worked as an after school counselor and an aide, but she always wanted to be an instructional assistant in the classroom.
“Every opportunity she was given was an opportunity to learn,” Malkanthie McCormick said. “Some of them were not as satisfying as others, but she did what she could.”
“The thing she’s doing hopefully is inspiring other parents and other teachers and other students to look at her and say,’ If Megan can do it, so can we’... to raise the bar of expectation,” she said.
Many need job opportunities
Megan McCormick’s employment story isn’t typical of Kentuckians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At a time of high employment in Kentucky, people with those disabilities continue to experience a low employment rate and below-minimum wages, according to a University of Kentucky group aiming to improve the situation.
Only 20.8 percent of former high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been employed for at least 90 days one year after completing high school at minimum wage or better. One program, KentuckyWorks, aims to increase employment and post-secondary education for students with disabilities by 20 percentage points over five years through a community support program., UK officials said.
KentuckyWorks, led by the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute, is a collaborative effort between several state partners that aims to make sure valuable employees with disabilities are able to find employment that utilizes their skills, talents and interests, KentuckyWorks provides resources, hosts community conversations and empowers former students with disabilities, families, educators, employment specialists, and employers.
“Far more individuals want to work, so its a tremendous need in terms of connecting individuals to employers and then working with the schools to help them prepare students for employment,” said Harold Kleinert, who works with the program.
Malkanthie McCormick recently attended an event where she heard about KentuckyWorks. The data about the lack of employed people with intellectual disabilities concerned her.
“We have to share this story,” she said, “get the community employers to look at these people and say, ‘Wait a minute. They belong to our community. They graduated from the school system, the special education programs. We have to embrace them.’”
UK’s Human Development Institute has recently launched a new website and learning modules for teachers, people with disabilities, employers, families and employment professionals at Kentuckyworks.org. The purpose of the website is to help people navigate the transition process and find the most valuable resources in Kentucky and nationwide to make sure young people with disabilities can get jobs and higher education after they finish school.