Name: Cheryl “Cheri” Green
Position: Teacher’s Assistant
Program: Brookside Intensive Treatment Unit
Year Started: 1987
Do you remember how you were trained for your current position?
There wasn’t training like they do today. I observed a 12 hour day and then was on the floor the next day. And I worked Sunday to Wednesday. And my shift was 7:30 in the morning ‘till 7:30 at night. I started August 24, 1987.
Did you have a background related to the job?
No, I worked at a store before I started here.
Did you know it was going to be a career?
I didn’t know. I had a kid back in the 1990s who said, “Cheri Green, I want to grow up to be just like you.” So here I still am.
What appealed to you about the job?
I just remember I worked at JJ Newberry’s in Pittsfield on North St. many moons ago. I started when I was in 12th grade and worked there until 1987 and then came here. I’ve only had two jobs in my life. And I remember saying to my friend [who worked for Hillcrest], “Get me an application to start working there.”
When you were doing the observation, what went through your mind? When I observed it was just being with a couple of students and then I said, “Maybe it’s not for me.” Then I came back the next day and observed with another few students and said, “Okay, I’ll stay.” And that was it. I don’t remember, I mean, it was a long time ago. Training, there was maybe just a little bit…
Do you remember a time when training started becoming a bigger thing?
Well I remember TCI (Therapeutic Crisis Intervention) training coming. And that was hard to transition over to that. [But it’s] a lot better now.
What was the difference, do you remember?
Oh, the restraints were not very good compared to TCI. With TCI, it’s safer.
What was the happiest moment for you while working with Hillcrest?
The happiest moment? I won the maaps award. That was pretty big. It’s for all the private schools in Massachusetts. Pete Lopenzina (Brookside ITU’s Program Director) nominated me for that and they chose me to be the Direct Care Worker of the Year.
Who do you think has the most influence on your career?
Most influential person…myself! I don’t think I’ve ever [thought about it]. I’ve always had a good work ethic, I got in line. When I learn the rules of the job, I follow ‘em. You know what I mean? And I hopefully direct people that aren’t following them. You know. It’s just…I don’t know, maybe I’m a take charge person.
What surprised you most about the job?
When we got that $2 an hour raise. That surprised me and it was wonderful. [It was] to try to be comparable to other places like this.
Do you have any advice for new employees or people going through the application & interview process?
I like speaking at the new staff orientation when they come down here. I always, always keep a deck of cards in my pocket because you can entertain any level with these. Playing Memory to Go Fish, Rummy, any kinds of games. I tell them that.
And then I say, “We have a lot of kids that self-harm. And [there are] plans in place to help keep them safer.” And I encourage them to follow that plan exact because if you don’t on your shift, the next shift that does follow it [could get] punched in the face* because they’re following the [plan]. It gives the next shift a lot of grief…It’s so huge.
What kind of person do you think succeeds as a YDP?
Somebody new coming in? Interacting with the kids right away. In the classroom people come in and observe. In my classroom, staff sit in between the desks. They sit next to kids all the time. And just seeing them interact right away is awesome. I think that’s good, you know?
What sort of questions should they ask to break the ice with the students if they’re feeling nervous?
Be firm, follow through with what you’re going to say.
It’s more about the confidence?
Don’t let the kids know you’re scared. Don’t let ‘em.
Say you’re down at the gym and there’s an activity going on. Don’t go sit on the bleachers. Get out there and play with the kids because you need to keep them in earshot. Oh my God. It’s so huge to keep them in earshot, as well as eyesight. [One kid can say] something subtle to another kid and then they get restrained all night long because it could set them off. If we’re paying attention and keeping them engaged, they stay out of trouble. You know what I mean?
Is there anything else you want to say about the job or what you enjoy about it?
It’s very rewarding. Yes, it is. And the kids call me an old lady all the time because I’m 55. I was 24 when I started. And I think I still have as much energy as I did when I started.
Do you think the job has helped you keep some of that energy?
[I] am so active, playing in gym class, running around with the kids, walking around the quad, taking them for time away. I’m active. And then when I get home, I’m tired. So I don’t have to go home and exercise for an hour. I did it here.
When they call you old lady, do you just laugh?
Well they call me childish. And I’m annoying. I said, “But you know what, I can make anybody smile and be happy everywhere I go.” And they say, “But you’re old.” And I say, “So what? I like me how I am. And I’m gonna be this happy all the time.”
And it rubs off! A student that used to be on my dorm hated that I came in every morning saying good morning to everybody and was always positive. She said she hated me because I’m positive all the time. [We] do check ins and circle ups. And her goal was to be positive all the time. I said, “Oh, I’m rubbing off on you now, huh?” She said, “Maybe a little.” It’s cool!
Cheri later adds…
I always have a basket full of games…I have some DVDs, some old-school movies like Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and I bring it up to the floor. And most of the time, during a vacation, my dorm is kept busy. The kids are kept busy all the time because I’m playing games with them all the time. We’re building puzzles. I have little 100 piece puzzles. That will keep somebody busy, sitting at their desk in the classroom during a media presentation. It’s just something quiet, keeps ‘em busy. And they’ll rebuild them and rebuild them. It’s just cool! The kids are kept busy all the time.
*Consistency is key for our students. When things don’t go according to plan, they may have big reactions. At Hillcrest, we aim to maintain consistency for our students’ and staff’s wellbeing.
Interested in doing what Cheri does? We’d love to hear from you! Click here to see our job openings.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.