Emily Gaud, a Special Aide Para, is a crucial part of Halcyon School, one of the Special Education Programs in the Boulder Valley School District. This unique school serves students from 1st to 12th grade who are referred through a district and Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, primarily dealing with serious emotional disabilities or requiring mental health support. Gaud’s role as at Halcyon exemplifies her belief that “no student is beyond help; sometimes it takes more effort, but every kid is worth our time.”
Originally from Chicago, Gaud relocated to Colorado to pursue an undergraduate degree in Psychology from University of Colorado Boulder.
Gaud, who transitioned to her current BVSD role after serving as a substitute teacher in 2020, has dedicated many years of her career to working with teenagers in group homes and providing support to homeless women in Boulder. Her work with these groups are what introduced her to Halcyon school as she knew students who were referred to the program.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Gaud’s can-do attitude is part innate and part self-made. Her accomplishments outside of work include climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, competing as a tennis player, and traveling to exotic places outside of her comfort zone.
While most may find her work and pastimes uncomfortable at best, Gaud sees them as part of living a full life and her way of giving back.
“I always seem to find myself in challenging situations where others need help,” said Gaud. “That must be partly because I’m comfortable with that work.”
Students that require more intensive support, like those at Halcyon, can sometimes unfairly be labeled “difficult kids” or “out of control” due to their struggles with emotional understanding and unhealthy coping mechanisms. However Gaud, along with the school’s dedicated staff, are determined to reshape this narrative by equipping these students with the skills and tools they need to navigate challenging situations.
“I have always been intrigued by how our childhood experiences impact the way we experience the world,” said Gaud.
“As a society, we’re improving our early interventions for students and striving to provide support for those who, from a young age, have endured more than anyone should in a lifetime.”
Safe and Supportive Classrooms
In her role as a special skills aide, Gaud takes on a central role in providing classroom support for students. Her primary focus revolves around building strong relationships with students, helping them navigate classroom expectations and teaching crucial social skills. Collaborating closely with teachers, Gaude strives to cultivate a safe and nurturing learning space, enabling students to effectively learn to self regulate and de-escalate.
A day in the life of her work could include, sitting with students in class, having one-on-one meetings with them around issues, and providing social and emotional support to those in need.
Her favorite part of the job is, once a month, the Halcyon team organizes “First Friday Breakfast”, during this event, they serve students a delightful homemade breakfast and spend quality time together outside the classroom, making strong connections.
Working with high needs students of course comes with its own unique set of challenges. “I definitely hear some very creative language, and have seen my share of intense outbursts,” laughs Gaud. “But I try to model behavior for them, which may include admitting some of my own mistakes to students in handling difficult interactions.”
Gaud emphasizes, “our number one goal is to establish relationships with our students that empower them to safely express their needs. All behavior is communication, so if kids are having outbursts, they’re communicating that they don't feel safe.”
She acknowledges that the students at Halcyon have already developed valuable skills for survival in their own environments, based on their needs. Instead of negatively framing what may be perceived as bad behavior, her approach entails a deeper exploration of the underlying needs.
Halcyon is a unique place where titles like “student” and “teacher” take a back seat, as genuine human connections are valued above all else.
“The kids are so fun, they are creative and intelligent, they have so much resolve,” said Gaud. “We get this amazing opportunity to take time to really get to know them and what drives them, what they get excited about, and what lights them up inside.”
Gaud’s dedication to her students is further echoed by Matt Dudek, Halcyon Principal and Special Education Director.
“Emily is wonderful, she has an extensive background of caring about and working with kids who have faced some overwhelming challenges,” said Dudek. “Her humor and heart set her apart. We are so very fortunate to count her as a member of our team.”