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ESPs Keep Students Challenged!

We make sure students are:

We meet the needs of the whole student.

No Challenge Too Great for These Educators

This issue of NEA Today highlights “challenged,” one of five tenets used by NEA to illustrate how the work of education support professionals (ESPs) helps to meet the needs of the whole student. The five principles are listed at the top of this page.

It’s difficult to measure how the work of ESPs—in classrooms and cafeterias, on playgrounds and buses—helps to challenge students, so we won’t try. But we will tell you about Saul Ramos, a Worchester, Mass., paraeducator who inspires visually impaired students to thrive beyond their expectations.

We’ll also introduce Katherine Davis, a North Carolina computer instructor who motivates students to expand their horizons through Keddsnews, a website she created in collaboration with other educators. And we’ll show you how Lynn Goss, a Wisconsin paraeducator, inspires students through “What I Need,” a program that encourages them to learn at their own pace and capacity. And you’ll learn how Anthony Marie Johnson, a military veteran and paraeducator, harnesses her talents on behalf of Kansas City’s special needs students.

Artist and Independence Builder

Saul Ramos has worked with visually impaired and blind students for 16 years. He transforms worksheets, textbooks, quizzes, and tests into Braille using computer technology. But he says his chief goal is to help students become independent in every aspect of their lives.

“I know that with patience, understanding and guidance, my students are capable of accomplishing anything any other student can,” says Ramos, an employee of the Worcester Public School System.

Ramos is also an artist and an advocate for English language learners. He hails from San German, P.R., and says, “I am a mixture of my mother’s Spanish heritage and my father’s African and Taino [an indigenous people from across the Caribbean] heritage.” As a child, Ramos split his time growing up between Worcester and San German.

Through his work with Grupo Arcoiris, Providence Latin American Film Festival, and ECAS Theater in Providence, R.I., Ramos combines his passions for education, art, and Latino culture.

“I am a passionate advocate for making sure our community, especially our youth, stay in touch with their roots,” says Ramos, artistic director and founder of Arte Latino of New England. “Through our youth, we can keep our culture alive.”

The multi-talented Ramos is equally committed to acknowledging the critical role artists and artisans play in society. “We need “Einsteins” in this world, but we also need poets, photographers, writers, carpenters, musicians, and painters,” he says. “Art is one of the greatest ways that humans can express their whole spirit. I hope that all educators will remember that among their students, they may have a budding artist who should be challenged and motivated to explore their craft. ”

Challenging a Student Stigma

At Menominie Middle School in Menomonie, Wis., students are challenged through personalized instruction and intervention.

Through the “What I Need” program, students are asked to appreciate their unique strengths and weaknesses, and walk their own path of discovery. Educators know that students have various capacities for learning, and some may require more individual instruction than others.


“Learning is not a race,” says paraeducator Lynn Goss. “Sometimes, after we investigate what is going on with a specific student, we sometimes find out the student is having problems with vision or that they’re depressed because their father just lost his job, or they’re being bullied.”

As determined to advocate for students as she is to challenge them, Goss says that sometimes it’s important to step back and listen in a caring way.

“I’d say that having a supportive and caring relationship with them is just as important as anything else,” she says. “It’s not something that a book or a computer program, or drilling them on fractions, is going to solve.”
Principal Stacey Everson says Goss “has uncanny intuition coupled with an enormous knowledge base that empowers her to make a significant difference in the academic lives of students.”

Goss’ efforts align with Menomonie officials’ goal of removing social stigma from students who need remedial help. “We’ve started being honest and more transparent with students,” she says. “In the past, we may have sugar-coated things for them and I think they understood that to mean that their special needs were something to be ashamed of. I think once you are honest and tell students where they are academically and where they need to be, their feelings of ownership over their own learning increases. I think this develops the sense of responsibility and self determination they need to reach their academic goals.”

A Digital Tool that Makes Learning Fun


“Much of what is taught in school today challenges our students to learn and grow at a quick speed,” says Katherine Davis, a computer instructor at Table Rock Middle School in Morgantown, N.C. “Many students find it hard to keep up with the learning process.”

To bridge the gap, Davis collaborated with other educators to create Keddsnews (, which offers educational games, tutorials, interactive lessons, and other resources. The site helps students solve math problems, learn a foreign language, enter essay contests, research college grants, and more.

“Keddsnews helps teach students through fun interactive games,” says Davis who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “The more they practice [their] skills, the more they will comprehend.”

The site’s “Welcome to the Jungle” section offers lesson plans coordinated with classroom curriculums. The online lessons are intended to enhance what teachers are doing in class, not replace them.

“I want my students to know that they can create who they want to be,” says Davis, who worked hard to bring together ESPs, teachers, and administrators to develop a digital tool that would address learning and achievement gaps. “It takes a village to raise a child and I am dedicated to doing what I can to help.”

Working with Students, Parents, and Community Members


Anthony Marie Johnson is the special education paraeducator who challenges students at Argentine Middle School to reach their full potential inside and outside the classroom.

“We focus on nurturing and helping to educate well-rounded students,” says Johnson, who served for 20 years as an army reservist before retiring in 2004. “We want to prepare these students for the next stage in their development so they can do as well as anybody, anywhere.”

In her community, Johnson is a volunteer extraordinaire who tutors children from low-income households and counsels teens who have become pregnant. She also works with the Single Parent Scholarship committee, which helps college students who are raising children on their own, and volunteers with the Kansas City Kansas Black Chamber of Commerce, which supports a summer STEM program for students in third through eighth grades.

“The biggest thing for students to know is that we care and want them to succeed,” she says. “That’s how a community is supposed to function. Helping one another.”

The concept of educating the whole student resonates with community organizations and schools alike, Johnson says.

“Even in the food line, if a student is being mischievous, a cafeteria worker will encourage them to do the right thing,” she says. “If a custodian sees a student without a belt and their pants hanging too low, he will take them aside and ask them to consider how that looks to others. ESPs contribute a lot to students. People need to know. ”

By Sara Robertson and John


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