Teacher: KC Cotter

KC Cotter has known she loved working with kids ever since she was a middle schooler babysitting on the weekends.

But her professional career didn’t quite start out that way — after graduating with a degree in computer science from Keene State College, she had a few different office jobs. Then, after having her first daughter, she found a child care position and instantly loved working with children again, KC Cotter’s mother, Betsy Cotter, said. That led her to take a position as a tutor in the Keene School District.

She’s now been a paraprofessional in the A.R.C. program at Symonds Elementary School for more than five years, and was voted by the public as one of The Sentinel’s Everyday Heroes for her contributions at the school during the pandemic.

“She just amazes me at how she carries on with just such a positive attitude, and she’s taken care of all these kids through all this terrible time we’ve had,” her mother, who nominated KC for the Everyday Heroes award, said. “I’ve known that her whole life, but of course she really showed it to me during this COVID.”

When schools shifted to remote learning last spring, KC Cotter said her students, who may have emotional disorders or past traumatic experiences, struggled to learn in a virtual environment. That’s why the school brought students in the A.R.C. program back to attend school four days a week in the fall.

KC Cotter said it made a huge difference for the kids — but as a single mother, it also presented a challenge in that her two daughters, both teenagers in the Keene School District, were still learning at home.

“She went every day to school with these kids, she had her own daughters at home doing remote learning,” Betsy Cotter said. “She’s just been amazing in that way.”

According to Nancy Elliott, a teacher in the A.R.C. program, KC is one of four “incredibly dedicated” paraprofessional staff in the program. She even volunteered to deliver food to students’ homes during the health crisis, Elliott said.

KC said her favorite part of working at the school is “being able to make connections with kids that are having difficulty making the connection. It’s just fun to be able to do that and show that people care; there’s other people besides families that are caring people.”

Because of COVID, the program hasn’t been able to participate in some of its typical activities out in the community this year, she said, such as visits to a local horse farm or the Keene Family YMCA. But she said being back in the classroom with her students has made things feel almost normal.

KC has also been a huge source of support for her mother after the death of her husband a couple of years ago, Betsy Cotter said, and KC and her sister took care of their mother this March after she had to undergo back surgery.

“She and her sister have just been my rock through a great loss for me,” Betsy Cotter said.

When KC found out she had been voted an Everyday Hero, she said she was “shocked.” She emphasized that the A.R.C. program’s work is a team effort, and that her colleagues deserve the recognition just as much as she does.

And while the last year has certainly been difficult, KC said her philosophy is to focus on others rather than herself.

“I just focus on what needs to get done and don’t worry about what it’s causing for me,” KC Cotter said. “ … It’s all a lot, but I think that’s just what you do. You just do it.”