Not all superheroes wear capes. Some walk humbly through the halls of schools, remembering each child’s name. Some heroes go above and beyond their job description to lend a listening ear or to think of creative ways to foster a meaningful connection with kids. When this happens, transformation is possible: young lives are positively impacted, and the trajectory of their paths are changed. One of these every day heroes is Aaron Madsen, program paraeducator at downtown Vancouver’s Hough Elementary School.
Madsen is a beacon of light to the kids that come to school every day, no matter what their age or ability level is. Many of these young people consider Madsen an advocate for them – someone that values them and truly sees who they are as unique individuals.
Prior to working in education, Madsen served in the United States Navy for nine years. He was stationed on a submarine for four and a half years, then worked as a military training instructor, where he worked with young people that had just completed boot camp. After he left the military, it was difficult to find a job due to the recession, but he eventually found a position at a car dealership as a mechanic. It was there that he learned more about the education field. After talking to some clients that were teachers and expressing his own interest in being a teacher, they encouraged him to get the training and accreditation he needed. He enrolled in Clark College and received two associate degrees in just a year and a half. Now, he is working toward become a certified teacher.
Madsen knew that he needed to start in a very entry level position, so he began work for Vancouver Public Schools as a custodian. Then, he was hired to do serve as a para educator at Hazel Dell Elementary and in 2016, he moved to Hough Elementary, where he has been ever since. Now, he oversees a structured learning classroom of 12 students. Many of these students have behavioral or special learning needs that requires extra attention or one-on-one care. “I enjoy the atmosphere,” he shares, “this is the age group that I like.”
When describing why he wanted to go into this field, Madsen shares that it was one specific teacher during his childhood that made all the difference. “As a kid, I wasn’t the best behaved, but I wasn’t the worst behaved, either,” he says. “But I had a great music teacher, Mr. Fletcher, in fifth grade. He had a heart to help all sorts of people. He took me under his wing from fifth to twelfth grade. He worked with me and gave me every opportunity under the sun. He would guide me and do extracurricular things to help, too. He was such a positive influence and I try to remember the nice things that he always did.”
Last year, Madsen got to meet up with that teacher and thank him for the positive influence he had on his life. “I got a hold of him, and I was able to meet with him and his wife,” he adds. “I was able to talk to him about behavioral children. I was able to tell him that it was because of him that I could do my current job. Meeting him and telling him that was so incredibly important.”
Today, Madsen is reflecting the kindness and influence that Fletcher had on him all those years ago. You can find Madsen at almost every Hough after-school event or interacting with kids of all ages during recess. He also volunteers as a coach for track and soccer, and it’s not uncommon for Madsen to buy popcorn for students in the school on Popcorn Fridays, purchase books for kids at the book fair, or provide pizza parties for a classroom. “I don’t do anything for me, I try to do it as an opportunity for a kid,” Madsen shares. “It’s not about personal accolades, it’s part of who I am. I try to be a positive influence on these kids. I couldn’t do this job without them.”