From coast to coast, students, teachers, and parents are rolling out the red carpet in a national day of recognition for education support professionals (ESP), who are integral members of the education team.
As part of American Education Week (AEW) 2016, ESP Day (Nov. 16) focuses on the importance of these school employees, who make up 40 percent of the school staff and take care of students every day, making sure they have the tools they need to succeed in school.
Among the day’s events and activities are appreciation breakfasts, luncheons, and other celebrations to honor the individuals who work behind the scenes to support students and help schools run smoothly.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, along with National ESP of the Year Doreen McGuire Grigg and Council for Education Support President Debby Chandler spent the day today honoring the hard work and dedication of ESPs from Rogers High School in Spokane, Wash. The high school sits in the highest poverty zip code in Washington State and has a student homeless population in the hundreds.
Five years ago, the school was deemed as “failing” by the U.S. Department of Education because of its graduation rate, which stood at 49 percent. To reverse the trend, Chandler, an attendance secretary and parent-community specialist at Rogers was put on a team to help lead transformation efforts. After three years, the collaborative efforts among ESPs, teachers, and school staff helped to launch the school’s graduation rate to 82 percent—and today its inching toward nearly 85 percent. This alone is cause to celebrate!
To honor this work and the commitment of ESPs, NEA teamed up with the DUDE. be nice Project to pull off a series of surprises for the self-proclaimed “lunch bunch,” the cafeteria workers at the school.
The surprises included a drive-by style breakfast served this morning to ESP staff, including the Lunch Bunch, with loving tenderness by none other than the King himself, Elvis. But the surprise breakfast was only the beginning of surprises slated throughout the day.
The real Hollywood-style production happened in the afternoon when each Lunch Bunch member walked the red carpet. They were dazzled by paparazzi flashes and draped with a custom Lunch Bunch apron. As the group made their way to a formal recognition in the center court, also known as the Rogers’ gym, students and the DUDE. be nice crew gave the Lunch Bunch break room an extreme makeover, including a new couch, carpet, fancy sound system with lights, and an official “Lunch Bunch” sign.
Eskelsen García has often said, “ESPs are the secret weapon to student success,” and this sentiment rings true today. “I was an amazing educator because I had an entire army behind me: nurses, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, and counselors—we always lifted each other up!”
On the Opposite Coast
At a kick-off event on Tuesday, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss—joined by Dawn Lewis, president of the Education Association of Alexandria (EAA)—spent the day yesterday in Alexandria, Va. The duo visited three area schools: TC Williams High School, George Mason Elementary School, and Francis C. Hammond Middle School.
Like any good guest, Moss came bearing a special gift: Each school received from NEA a $1,000 check for programs and services that will benefit staff and students!
“Our school support staff has many needs and this money will go toward helping them in their work,” says Moss.
But more than just the check, the day proved to be a whirlwind of excitement, celebration, and emotion.
“Education support staff are near and dear to my heart because both of my parents were public school bus drivers,” said Moss. “I have an appreciation…for ESPs because I know the very important work they do. They are pillars of the community.
At Williams High, Moss kicked off the celebration with a staff breakfast, as well as a meet and greet with bus drivers. As drivers pulled up to the school, Moss personally thanked them for their commitment to keeping students safe, and getting them to school on time and ready to learn. In addition to the $1,000 check to the school, she also provided each driver with a gift card to Target and a local grocery store.
A stop to Mason Elementary took Moss back to her roots as a music teacher. During a school tour, she stepped into the class of Heather Rosner, the school’s band teacher, and picked up the clarinet to play with the award-winning George Mason Band.
The energy was still on full blast by the time Moss arrived to Hammond Middle School, the last school visit of the day. In a series of student-led events, ESP were treated to decorated hallways, school lunch, plaques of gratitude, and an ESP-assembly celebration, where 400 seventh graders gave them a thunderous applause.
During the assembly, ESPs—who had their positions covered by teachers—were given a special performance by the school choir and orchestra. A student also gave a riveting rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Hero.” Not a dry eye was in the room.
EAA President Dawn Lewis told the assembly, “It touches my heart to see you all honored this way.”
ESPs are critical members of the education workforce. They include paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, tradespeople, and technical staff. They also include school security officers, school bus drivers, food service workers, and those who work in health and student services.
At Hammond, ESPs are “some of our favorite people in the building,” says Pierrette Hall, the school’s principal. “Our ESP provide invaluable support and model positive behavior for our students and staff. We thank you for your service.”
Echoing these remarks was special guest Dr. Alvin Crawley, superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools: “Our work is not the work of one, but the collective work of many. It takes all of us together every day to help our students grow and go. You are the base of the pyramid—our foundation. You teach us life lessons on how to be better people. I—we—appreciate all you do to be better and stronger as a school division. Thanks for work you do every single day.”
ESPs meet the most fundamental needs of students, enabling them to reach higher levels of knowledge, achievement, and student success.
While AEW recognizes a special day for ESPs, Moss says “we should celebrate all year to honor and celebrate our ESP, [who] contribute to the education of the whole student. Without them [students] wouldn’t get that extra attention [they] need.”
NEA is encouraging everyone to get involved in American Education Week by participating in a local event, such as volunteering in after-school programs, attending a school activity, or organizing events. For more information about American Education Week, visit nea.org/aew.