While most of the currently enrolled students were still learning how to count to 10, Laureen Wentz was starting her first day at Homer Flex. Fifteen years later, she’s still at Flex, serving as the SPED (special education) aide/paraprofessional and perhaps more importantly, as the school caregiver.
Flex wasn’t the dream job for Wentz; quite frankly, it wasn’t one she even applied for. In actuality, she was force transferred and didn’t know about her new job until the day before she started. However, Wentz thinks it was supposed to happen.
“I’ve always thought it happened for a reason,” Wentz said. “You are given what you need when you need it, not when you want it.”
Change happens often and quickly at Flex. No one knows that better than Wentz. Every member of the teaching staff has changed since she started working at the school.
“Something changes every year,” Wentz said. “It’s a constant state of flux, or flex if you will.”
Everything from the way that Flex disciplines, to the way it teaches, has changed. When Wentz first started working at the school, simple infractions like swearing had heavy consequences.
“They (the students) could be suspended for one, two, four days,” Wentz said. “That doesn’t really help though. If we’ve got them here, we should keep them.”
Today, Flex uses a trauma-informed lens when it comes to student discipline, taking into account the various needs, experiences and situations of each individual before making impactful decisions.
In the beginning of Wentz’s time, the school wasn’t performance-based, which is now the main focus of the curriculum. But to Wentz, the standards aren’t everything.
“We don’t just think about the educational needs of our students,” Wentz said. “We value who they are as people, and we assist them along the way to bettering themselves.”
Wentz has stayed at Flex for the students. Working with teenagers is what she’s passionate about.
“Teenagers can be quite challenging because teenagers are still developing and trying to figure out who they are, and that can be scary,” Wentz said.
The student group at the school is particularly important to her.
“We are an eclectic bunch,” Wentz said. “We have every type of learning style and personality.”
Leaving isn’t on Wentz’s mind. She doesn’t plan on leaving unless the budget dictates it. No matter what though, Wentz will always be a part of the Flex family, because that’s what Flex is: a family, she said.
“Families hold grudges, and fight, but families are forgiving,” Wentz said. “They’ll always be a part of you no matter what.”
Ciara Cordes-Walker is a student at Homer Flex.