An honor she did not think existed was bestowed upon Megan Bilello for her caring and intuitive approach to assisting students in the classroom.
From the fashion world to primary education, Bilello found her niche at Chairville Elementary School after being an active parent in the Home and School Association and becoming a familiar face in after-school activities.
“At the time, the principal knew me as a familiar face in the building and offered me a job,” Bilello recalled. “I never thought I’d be doing this.”
Her work as a support services assistant was recognized at the Medford Township Public School’s board of education meeting on Jan. 27: Much to her shock, Bilello is the 2019 Educational Staffing Services Impact Award winner.
Bilello was selected out of thousands of New Jersey school employees who “perform about and beyond their assigned duties” in their schools, according to ESS’ website.
As humbling as the honor was for Bilello, she is a “nurturer by nature” and sees the job as an extension of her parenting. If kids had a rough day before class or did not sleep well the previous night for one reason or another, Bilello learns their thoughts going into the school day.
“Sometimes the kids need more emotional support than academic from me,” she noted. “I feel like that’s what my role is for the kids in the building. Not just in the classroom, but in the building.”
On the academic side of her job, the support services assistant helps break down math and writing lessons in a way students will understand. Currently, she helps second grade teachers Terri Shapiro and T.J. Schaefer in a supported classroom with kids who have various emotional and academic needs.
Reflecting on her job and its responsibilities, Bilello felt it would have made a difference to have an assistant in the classroom when she was growing up. School for her was hard, and she disliked it.
“I never had any extra support; it was just a teacher who didn’t have time for somebody like me who needed extra time,” she recalled. “It was hard for me and would have been everything.”
Students at Chairville get the intimate interaction Bilello sought when she was young, so their days are easier. She focuses more on a child’s thinking than academics; students can’t perform to the best of their abilities if something is occupying their minds, she believes.
“When they get off their buses, she’s the first person they see,” Shapiro said. “It gives teachers important information as to how to engage with that student during the day.”
Bilello happily noted that students often run off buses to greet her with a hug and tell her what they anticipate for the school day and after. Shapiro lauded Bilello for her constant follow-up with students who may be taking a big test, trying out for a team or playing a big game after school.
“The greatest thing about Megan is that she follows through and she’ll run down the halls and ask the kids about them,” Shapiro said with a smile. “That’s the biggest strength she has and kids see that in her.”
Bilello doesn’t typically hear feedback from parents, but teachers have passed along remarks made during parent-teacher conferences on how excited kids are to interact with her.
Teachers, she said, value what Bilello does for Chairville and have allowed kids to see her when they need help during school days.
Bilello comically engages kids and has been spotted playing soccer in the hallways during recess or basketball. The activities have helped kids become happier and more comfortable sharing stories with her, such as losing a tooth or upcoming weekend activities.
Bilello can’t imagine trading her job for anything else. The most joy she gets is in hearing from students and learning about them.
“To be recognized for that is sweet and I’m humbled by that,” she remarked. “I don’t think what I do on a daily basis is anything special.
“It’s my standards and expectations as a person to be a decent, kind person.”