Education, Feature

Retirees 2024: Zubak gave a helping hand throughout the day

In 2005, Judy Zubak was an at-home mom with a daughter in kindergarten at Serena Hills School in Chicago Heights. She would go in once a week as a PTO volunteer to help with ice cream treats.

Judy Zubak

Then Principal Lynn Westerlund suggested Zubak fill a part-time position as a paraprofessional at Serena.

“I would have never thought about school,” Zubak said, but she found working with special education students was easy. She is a certified paraprofessional through the Illinois State Board of Education.

At first, she did the morning shift for a year, and then an afternoon shift the following year before transitioning to a full-time position. For 19 years, Zubak was there when a child in District 161 needed special attention. She retired from her job this month.

Zubak worked at four of the five schools in the district, the last seven years at Parker Junior High in the seventh and eighth grade area. She was alongside a student throughout the school day helping with a variety of tasks to meet physical and mental challenges. She helped with school work, although she’ll admit math wasn’t her forte.

With her gregarious personality, Zubak’s biggest support was most likely giving a student a smile and a word of encouragement.

“I loved every one of my kids,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids grow and graduate.”

Many have come back to visit, or she has met them in the community. She recalled shedding a few tears of joy when she recently saw one of her students working full-time at Jewel. She remembers the student as “my shining star. I was very happy for her.”

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