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NEA salutes public education’s unsung heroes on Education Support Professionals Day

Annual event highlights role of ESPs in students’ lives

WASHINGTON - November 17, 2010 -

Schools across the country are joining the National Education Association and its 3.2 million members today in celebrating Education Support Professionals Day. 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.

Education support professionals (ESPs) are the people who drive the buses, clean the buildings, prepare the meals, and bandage the scraped knees.  They also include the security guards, paraeducators, office assistants and technicians.  ESPs are the first to arrive at school and the last to leave, and schools couldn’t operate without them. Even though they make up more than 40 percent of all public school employees, their role in supporting students and teachers is often overlooked.

“Education support professionals are public education’s unsung heroes,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The public rarely hears about the positive impact they have on a school community. But the students get it. They know they can depend on the school nurse, the bus driver, the custodian and other school staff who care deeply about them.”

To honor ESPs locally, Van Roekel, along with ESP of the Year Helen Cottongim and NEA ESP Chair Laura Montgomery, visited Mt. Vernon Community School in Alexandria, Va., and listened to students reading thank-you notes to their favorite school staff member. Earlier in the morning, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle, Cottongim and Montgomery visited Alexandria’s John Adams Elementary where they hosted an appreciation breakfast for school support staff.

“Education support professionals should be recognized not only today but on every single day of the year,” said Cottongim, a school bus driver from Kentucky. “They do more than just provide nutritious meals and transportation. They are positive role models and play a key role in making public schools great for every child. Today serves as a reminder for students, parents and community members to thank their education support professionals who so greatly impact the lives of students every day.”

More than 78 percent of ESPs are responsible for student and staff safety.  On average, they have more than a decade of experience. A recent NEA survey of its ESP members found that most (86 percent) are female and their average age is 51. The survey also found:

  • 80 percent work full time; 
  • 72 percent work in a school building;
  • 43 percent work in a preschool, kindergarten or elementary school;
  • 60 percent live in a small town or rural area;
  • 53 percent provide care to students with special needs;
  • 61 percent give money (an average of $170 per year) out of their own pockets to help students with things such as classroom supplies and field trips.

Education Support Professionals Day is part of NEA’s 89th annual American Education Week celebration, taking place this year November 14-20. Education Support Professionals Day was first celebrated in 1987 after NEA’s Representative Assembly, the Association’s decision-making body of nearly 10,000 member delegates, called for creating a way to honor the contributions of all school support staff.  ESP Day is observed on Wednesday of American Education Week.

About American Education Week
Celebrated the week prior to Thanksgiving, American Education Week began in 1921 with the NEA and the American Legion as cosponsors. The goal was to generate public awareness and support for education because of concerns over illiteracy. A year later, the U.S. Office of Education signed on, and the PTA followed in 1938.

Cosponsors now include the U.S. Department of Education, National PTA, the American Legion, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Public Relations Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

American Education Week’s 2010 theme, Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, is a reminder that all Americans must do their part to help create great public schools for every student.  To find out more about American Education Week, visit or contact your local public school.

For more information on American Education Week, visit
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Celeste Busser  (202) 822-823,