In recognition of the extraordinary things they do for students every day in our nation’s schools, the White House honored and celebrated on Wednesday the work of education support professionals (ESP) as ‘Champions of Change .’
Twelve school support professionals, including five NEA ESP members, were honored at a May 11 ceremony at the White House where they participated in two panel discussions about how educating the whole student happens inside and outside of the classroom.
ESP make up one-third of our nation’s education workforce. Approximately, 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public schools and higher-ed institutions, with more than 75 percent working at the K-12 level. They are dedicated to everything from keeping students safe, healthy and fed to supporting their social and emotional well-being. Their work is critical to students’ academic success.
“Congratulations to these individuals on this incredible honor,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “NEA applauds their commitment to helping students succeed in school. ESP are our public schools’ unsung heroes. They are dedicated professionals who serve their students; willing and generous role models who makes a difference in students’ lives inside and outside of school; and advocates for public education.”
During the first panel discussion, moderator Roberto Rodriguez, deputy assistant to the President for education policy, recognized that ESP meet the diverse learning needs of students and asked participants to describe the role they play in education.
“We play a direct role in students’ academic success. We have an impact on the student and the community in which they live,” said Cynthia Tercero-Sandoval, dropout programs coordinator at Phoenix Union High School in Phoenix, Ariz.
“I hope I speak for all bus drivers when I say we are the first smiling, welcoming face students see each day, and we are certain to know their names,” said Ted Chaudoir, a school bus driver and playground supervisor at Southern Door County School District in Brussels, Wisc., who started a reading program on his bus for students, some of whom ride the bus for an hour each way. “We make sure they feel safe and supported and we create a relationship with them right away. Their education starts the moment they step on that bus.”
The second panel was moderated by Charles Basch, a professor of health and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who asked panelists to discuss how they create community by showing students that someone cares, that someone has high expectations of them accompanied by empathy.
“I look at the whole child and health is a major issue,” said Jeanette Griffin-Kimber, substitute teacher coordinator at Meadowcreek High School in Gwinnett County, Georgia. “I tell students they have an open door in my office, to come rest in my room, because if you don’t feel well you can’t learn.”
She explained that some of her students don’t have their own bed to sleep in or enough food to eat at home and they need the safety and support that all educators have a responsibility to provide.
“I’ve become a voice, for the students and for ESP, and I am here today to have that voice be heard,” she said.
A press statement released by the White House stated, “Educators, including school support professionals, often go above and beyond to meet all of the needs of students so they can achieve success both inside and outside of the classroom. The White House is excited to honor and celebrate the incredible work of school support professionals.”
Each of the panelists said they were honored by the White House recognition they’d received, but expressed that all ESP should share that honor. Doreen McGuire-Grigg, special education paraeducator at Terrace Middle School in Lakeport, Calif., and NEA ESP of the Year, called for a national Classified School Employee of the Year award to go along with the national Teacher of the Year award.
“We work so hard, and we do it for the love we have for our students and the love we have for what we’ve chosen as our calling,” she said.
The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.
In addition to honoring education support professionals, the White House has honored Champions of Change for climate equity, living wage, the Affordable Act Care, expanding fair chance opportunities, and others.