Student and para paired for twelve years


Melissa Irish

Senior Alek Balaberda works on his homework with some assistance from his longtime para, Beth Andersen.

Melissa Irish, Features Editor

Ever since he was an infant, senior Alek Balaberda has had limited eyesight due to retinopathy of prematurity.  Not long after birth, it was also found that various auditory disabilities had caused him to have partial hearing.  However, he works with these by using a cane, an FM system for his hearing, and the assistance of paras.

One of Alek’s paras in particular, Beth Andersen, has been working with him since he met her in the first grade.

“He’s been with a lot of paras all of his life, but I’ve been his main one since fifth grade because of the Braille,” Andersen said.

Besides translating his work into Braille, Andersen also helps him by taking notes in his classes when necessary, keeping track of his schedule, and communicating with others who work with Alek.  She clarifies both school lessons and other concepts for him as well.

“I am able to put things into an everyday basis so that he can understand something a little easier,” Andersen said.  “He didn’t know what a saucer and teapot was, so I showed him with my flowerpot and he understood.”

Andersen said that Bellevue West does an excellent job with working with students with disabilities.

“They look out for the kids, talk with the kids, they don’t treat them any differently,” Andersen said.   “Even the kids with the lowest abilities are treated equally with any other student.”

Since Alek’s disabilities are physical, he functions fairly similarly to a “typical” student.

“I am mostly in the mainstream,” Alek said.  “I mostly do main core classes and I don’t really use special ed that much.”

Due to his disabilities, teachers sometimes modify his work, such as by having him make a powerpoint instead of a drawing.  However, Andersen doesn’t always feel that his teachers always manage to expect enough from him.

“I don’t think they know the potential of a student,” Andersen said.  “The students that are with disabilities can do a lot more than is thought to be.  And because of that, I don’t think all the teachers expect as much of the students as they can give.”

Alek’s mother, Kari Balaberda, doesn’t go out of her way to work around his disabilities.  Instead, she has him adjust.

“We always made Alek adjust to the accommodations the way they are,” Kari said.  “He’s a sponge; he just soaks up information.”

That ability will likely aid Alek as he continues his education.

“I’m going to go to college and get a degree in IT [Information Technology],” Alek said.

The FM system Alek currently uses for his hearing will not go with him to college, so Alek will need to find an alternative, such as hearing aids.  Another difference will be how Alek will no longer have a para to assist him.  Although Andersen will miss his presence, she is certain he will do well.

“He will be great–he has learned how to advocate for himself,” Andersen wrote.  “Like grades 1-12, he’ll learn to navigate college.”