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Press Release

Department of ED Celebrates Education Support Professionals

RISE Award Takes Stride Towards Recognition of Education Staff in America
Published: 05/18/2021

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced the winner of the first RISE (Recognizing Inspiring School Employees) Award, Melito Ramirez, earlier today. An intervention specialist and proud SEIU member, Ramirez works with students and families of the Walla Walla School District in Washington on overcoming social emotional learning barriers and hurdles.

The RISE Award acknowledges the pivotal role Education Support Professionals (ESPs) play in fostering safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for students across the nation. As the leading voice representing ESPs working in schools across the country, NEA joined a coalition of labor unions to organize and lead a multi-year effort to have the valuable contributions of ESPs recognized annually.  That effort culminated in the creation of this prestigious award through the passage of the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (H.R. 276) in 2019.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Becky Pringle:

“On behalf of NEA’s three million members, I want to congratulate Mr. Ramirez for his work with the students and families of Walla Walla, Washington. Every single Education Support Professional, including the hundreds of thousands of valued NEA ESP members, go to incredible lengths to support the nation’s students every day. NEA hopes that the visibility created through this award will help drive greater awareness of the central roles ESPs have in preparing students for success, deepen the respect for their knowledge and experience, and promote their authentic inclusion within school systems. 

 “This is a huge step in the right direction by the Department of Education and Secretary Cardona to recognize and celebrate the vital contributions of Education Support Professionals.  And though the RISE Award celebrates the work of one, it also lifts up the heroic work of all ESPs who kept students fed, online, and safe throughout the Coronavirus Pandemic. But support for their heroism can’t end with awards. We need to champion every single ESP by passing the American Families Plan to give them the support they need to secure medical paid leave and build greater economic prosperity for themselves and their loved ones.” 

Follow @NEAMedia and @BeckyPringle


The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at 

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.