Every day, millions of Americans entrust their children’s education to public schools. Since 1921, the National Education Association and other educational organizations have recognized the week before Thanksgiving as American Education Week – a time to celebrate the many individuals who come together to provide the enriching experience our children deserve. In 1987, special recognition was granted to the Education Support Professionals (ESPs) whose diligence and commitment set the framework for the entire public education system. Today, NPPC joins our partners in honoring ESPs by wishing them a very happy Education Support Professionals Day!
ESPs fall into several categories, including the following:
Clerical Service Workers
They arrange transportation, track attendance, manage payroll, serve as the front-line communication agents for parents, and perform various administrative duties essential to daily operations–Clerical Service Workers oversee and facilitate the often invisible tasks that support families and other school employees. When someone at the school answers your phone call, it’s almost guaranteed to be a member of the clerical team. Ordering supplies, paying the bills, and other key administrative duties fall on the shoulders of these folks.
Custodial and Maintenance Workers
Somebody in the school has to do the dirty work, and we are grateful we have custodians who service our public schools. We may think of them as the folks who empty the trash cans and wax the floors, but keeping the facilities clean is only the tip of the iceberg. Custodial and maintenance workers attend to the plumbing, the HVAC, the groundskeeping, building security systems, hygienic product supplies, snow removal, deliveries and disposal of furniture and fixtures, and overall appearance and functionality of school buildings. They are the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night and often work extra hours when schools are used for community events outside of regular school times. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, school custodians worked around the clock to protect students and faculty.
The issue of school safety in the United States is a hot-button topic. It is undisputed that dedicated security personnel are critical to maintaining safe and inviting educational environments. With crisis management and conflict resolution training, Security Workers are essential members of public school staff.
Food Service Workers
The old-school lunch lady trope is as beloved as it is antiquated. Still, today’s public school cafeteria workers are doing more than dishing out sloppy joes–they are tasked with meeting the varying nutritional needs of thousands of children. Providing students with safe, high-quality breakfast and lunch impacts their behavior, academic performance, and physical health. The rise in popularity of health-conscious school lunch programs has prompted additional training and skill-building for school cafeteria workers. Considering over 12 million children in America suffer from food instability, the meals provided in schools can help fill the nutritional gaps many children face. Food Service Workers are often low-wage earners. But unlike other low-wage food service gigs, these workers typically get access to health insurance and defined-benefit pensions.
Health and Student Service Workers
Student health encompasses more than just physical health. School systems today place an equal emphasis on student mental health. School nurses and health technicians provide medical intervention, monitor students’ allergies and medication needs, and facilitate community health initiatives, such as dental care, sight and hearing screenings, and management of illness outbreaks. School mental health professionals, such as school psychologists, counselors, and intervention coaches, attend to the emotional needs of the student body. Providing support to students and families, these service workers serve as a resource that can be overwhelming for families to secure outside of the school system.
Transportation Service Workers
Ask almost any parent of a public school student about the school drop-off line, and you’ll understand the importance and the plight of public school bus drivers. Bus driver shortages have plagued the country since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting these ESPs in high demand. Responsible for the safe transportation of children to and from school and school events, the transportation staff is an invaluable resource for parents and students.
Also called paraprofessionals, classroom assistants, or teachers’ aides, paraeducators provide direct services to students, faculty, and families. They often offer the most support for disabled students or students with learning and behavioral needs. Paraeducators perform tasks such as teaching, feeding, toileting, providing emotional support to students, monitoring student needs and behavior, and communicating with parents. Paras are essential to the functionality of classrooms, creating safe spaces for students and allowing teachers to focus on lesson planning and classroom instruction. These vital staff meet stringent training requirements and spend the most hands-on time directly with students, yet remain underpaid and don’t always have access to the same incentives or benefits as teachers and other ESPs. Paraeducators endure physical and emotional assault and continue to show up for their students and coworkers–truly a labor of love, paras are compassionate and dedicated public school employees.
Today and every day, we give thanks for the Education Support Professionals who make public education possible. Be sure to thank an ESP in your life today!