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Vocations, Not Vacations

More than half of all ESPs work during the summer months.

By John Rosales

As the final weeks of summer vacation drew to a close, Mary Jane Davis and eight other education support professionals (ESPs) in the Ventura Unified School District were deskbound.

Davis, who works 12 months a year for the California district’s child nutrition services department, spent much of the summer wrapping up the previous year’s paperwork involving inventory, purchase orders, sales reports, and requisitions from the district’s 33 school and contract sites. She also prepared for the upcoming school year, albeit at a “summer pace.”

“During the regular school year, there are a lot of interruptions from office and school staff,” says Davis, a 28-year district veteran. “Summertime is slower, which gives me time to organize.”

But as summer’s end approached, she worked feverishly to stock the district’s food warehouse for the fall. “The food has to be delivered before school begins,” she says. “If we are out of stock, we can’t just say to the students, ‘come back later, it’s on back order.’”

Mary Jane Davis says working during summer is not as hectic as the regular school year, “but sometimes you miss the noise.”
Feeding students is just one reason more than half of all ESPs work during at least part of the traditional vacation months. They wax floors, paint buildings, overhaul bus engines, repair old roofs, and generally de-bug, de-plug, and de-clog. About 22 percent of ESPs are 12-month employees, while another 36 percent work 10-month schedules, which often include such summer school roles as paraprofessionals, cooks, bus drivers, custodians, and secretaries.

While many ESPs value spending vacation time with their families, those working in summer programs help give other kids “a safe, structured, learning environment that they otherwise might not have during summer,” says Karen Mahurin, president of the National Council of ESPs. “Having year-round employees also cuts back on school vandalism,” she adds.

Jeanette Martinez is an education technician who doesn’t worry about her school getting trashed. She works in one of the safest school environments in the country.

A 10-month employee, Martinez manages the computer lab, school Web site, and distance-learning program at Lejeune High School, located on the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, a military installation in southeastern North Carolina that is part of the federal Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school system. Approximately 42,000 active duty Marines and sailors are stationed at Camp Lejeune. All 510 Lejeune students are military dependents and reside in base housing. As members of military families, the school population is highly transient.

“During summer, you have a lot of students transferring out, and new students coming in,” says Martinez, who is president of the Lejeune Education Support Association. “There’s a lot of paperwork for secretaries and clerical services personnel involved in getting everyone registered and situated.”

With such busy schedules during the school year, summertime offers some ESPs the opportunity to update office records, pitch outdated files, and get organized enough to start the whole process over again. Without having to cater to students at the computer lab all day, every day, Martinez has time to order books and manuals for the fall and inspect computer room wiring and printers. “I get more done in one hour during summer than in eight in the school year,” she says.

Summertime provides warehouseman John Stamp with the uninterrupted time he needs to do a detailed check of the aging building that houses the books, computers,  printer cartridges, and other supplies needed by the 25 schools and offices of the Saint Joseph, Missouri, school district. This year, Stamp’s big summer projects involved dismantling the building’s boiler and inspecting old textbooks. While district mechanics checked the roof for damage and cleaned the gutters, Stamp beat the heat inside by counting, stamping, and coding textbooks so they can be tracked during the school year. Old, tattered books get sold.

While Stamp’s days are full even in summer, he admits to missing the usual interaction with secretaries, paras, and teachers. “I like to know what is going on in the district,” he says. “I miss their phone calls and e-mails.”

Photo: Jeff Fassett

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