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Special Calling: Bavaro shares life skills with students with disabilities as a parapro, bus driver

Tina Bavaro found her calling serving students with disabilities as a paraprofessional and a bus driver.

Years back, after being overworked in a day care center, she was looking for something new. Nearly 18 years later, that something new became her home.

“Everyone had told me your natural instinct is working with kids,” said Bavaro.

A friend suggested being a substitute teacher, and it proved to be a good fit. After two years as a sub, she joined the REACH program as a paraprofessional. Along with lead Ivory Cloud and fellow parapro Nancy Akin, Bavaro helps teach life skills to special needs students ages 18 to 22.

Her new job came with a new responsibility: driving a school bus. Bavaro freaked out at first, but she figured it out.

“I was very afraid in the beginning, but I did it because that was part of my job,” she said. “Once I started doing it, the more I did it, the more I got confident, and now it’s like it’s like driving a car.”

She drives a special route, picking up children with profound disabilities. Along with a nurse on board, they transport students who are wheelchair-bound or use a walker. They may be non-verbal or need oxygen.

Her day starts at 6 a.m. with pre-trip preparations. She checks the tires and lights and ensures the wheelchair lift is working, then it’s off to pick up the nurse and oxygen and on to get the students at their homes. It is a two-person job to make sure wheelchairs are secure as they are lifted into the bus.

The students are dropped off around 8 a.m., then Bavaro joins up with the REACH program. They teach what it takes to be more independent, like cooking skills or employment skills.

It takes a special person with a big heart and a lot of patience. Every student is different, and you have to find the right approach to make a concept click for the student.

“It takes time and effort, and you have to have the patience with them,” she said. “To me, I feel I did my job as a para teaching them how to do it because I wasn’t frustrated and then finally it clicked.”

The students get hands-on learning, including at job sites like Your Pie. The team works throughout the morning setting up the restaurant, which includes sanitizing tables and chairs, preparing salads and condiments, and folding boxes.

“We bring them out in the world to show them how it is to work.”

When the students close in on aging out of the program, the goal is to line up a job for them. They have built up successful community partnerships, like Fayetteville City Hall where three REACH grads work.

“We try to feel out what their niche is.”

Bavaro loves being out in public and seeing her former students at their jobs.

“My reward as a para, it wouldn’t be the money because I wouldn’t be here, it is seeing all these kids flourish,” she said. “To me, it’s like, ‘wow, we did this.’”

That’s what it’s all about for her, knowing she was part of a team helping students succeed in life.

“I have a passion for these kids with special needs,” she said. “To me, when I see that reward at the end, it warms my heart, and it makes me feel like I made a difference in these students’ lives.”


“The Honor Role,” an official podcast for Fayette County Public Schools, features employees, rotating through key stakeholders, including teachers, staff, nurses, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers. Join us as we dive in and learn about their journeys, their inspirations, and their whys.

Episodes are available on all major podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts, and promoted on the social media channels of Fayette County Public Schools.

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Posted 4/16/2024