On Education Support Professionals Day, NEA’s approximately 500,000 education support professional (ESP) members and other public school support staff across the nation were honored for something they do every day though seldom get credit for: help to meet the needs of the whole student.
“You help educate the whole child,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, speaking to ESPs, parents, teachers, and administrators at Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah. “That whole blessed child.”
Communities nationwide are joining NEA from November 16-22 to celebrate 93 years of American Education Week, the annual observance that honors students, teachers, parents, community members and the nation’s approximately three million ESPs. More than four out of 10 public school employees are school support staff.
“We know it takes everyone at a school to educate a child,” said Laura Montgomery, president of the National Council of ESPs (NCESP), who also addressed the audience at Davis, including members of the statewide all-ESP Utah School Employees Association (USEA). “We can only meet the needs of the whole child when all adults at a school work together to help students succeed.”
At a morning event, Garcia, Montgomery, USEA President Jerad Reay, and NEA ESP of the Year Paula Monroe greeted bus drivers dropping students off at Odyssey Elementary School in Woods Cross. With a bevy of reporters and photographers in tow, they surprised drivers by handing them boxed breakfast meals.
>“One driver was in tears because after 12 years no adult had ever boarded her bus to thank her for the work she does,” Garcia said.
At a morning assembly honoring Odyssey ESPs, approximately 600 students gathered with teachers, administrators and support staff to watch a student-produced video of ESPs performing their jobs behind the scenes in the library, cafeteria, hallways, media room, and classroom.
Students also sang an original song, performed a skit acknowledging the contributions of ESPs, and read thank-you notes from the stage.
“You guys are the hardest working ladies I know,” said a third-grader in reference to food service workers Bridget Jensen, Dawna Lythgoe, and Cynthia Noffsinger. “I would die without you.”
In acknowledging Ella Bingham, media specialist – librarian, a fourth-grader said: “I would never ever trade you for any librarian in the world.”
“Thank you for helping me,” one student wrote to office staff, “when you gave me ice after I ran into a pole.”
To head custodian Terry Davies, a grateful student said: “I appreciate how you keep the bathrooms cleaner than my last school. You’re a janitorial superhero.”
NEA has developed a system of nine job groups and 60 job subgroups to help people understand the diverse roles that ESPs play in our nation’s schools and profound impact they can have on students.
“We have to meet all of the needs of students, ensuring that they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged,” says Reay. “These five tenets are known as the “whole child” approach, and it can only succeed when parents, teachers, administrators and support staff all work together.”
With the support of a three-year, $750,000 Great Public Schools Fund grant from NEA, USEA is transforming itself into an organization whose mission is “to empower, support and elevate school support professional careers to positively impact student success,” Reay says.
“Everyone knows that teaching is important,” he says. “But even the greatest teachers need support from the staff who transport students to school, keep buildings safe and clean, prepare nutritious meals, offer support in the classroom, and manage the library and front office.”
Following the student presentations at Odyssey, about a dozen local media and academic VIPs spent an hour shadowing ESPs as they conducted their normal duties at Odyssey, the state’s greenest school which opened its doors in September and has won several awards for its innovative school design and net zero energy use.
“This is a very modern school,” says Amy Conlan, a technology paraeducator who helps kindergarten students and up learn about mobile devices and the Internet. “We don’t have desktop computers. Only iPads.”