A Lot to ‘Like’ About ESPs
Education Support Professionals use social media to connect, commiserate, and advocate
By John Rosales
Check the Facebook feed for “NEA Education Support Professionals” (ESPs) and you are bound to catch a glimpse of The Passionate Para from Pennsylvania, Marla Lipkin.
Maybe she will post news of a privatization victory: “An outsourcing win in New Jersey! BOE (Board of Education) voted to keep paraprofessionals in house.”
Perhaps she will lament the sad case from Michigan of how the Novi School Board in the Detroit metropolitan area voted to privatize the school district’s food service as a cost-saving measure.
Lipkin may even offer news from Canada about a fiery school bus crash where the driver employed by a private transportation company was charged with careless driving.
“Outsourcing (news) is one of my favorite things to share,” says Lipkin, who is based at the Pennsbury School District and also manages a popular blog. “I seek articles that show privatization is not in the best interest of students.”
Lipkin is proof that today’s road to ESP networking runs through Facebook—it runs through Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, too. More than ever, today’s ESPs use social media networking as a digital strategy tool that allows them to share photos of important events and occasions, connect with colleagues, and advocate for education issues.
“My local Association has two Facebook pages and a website we use for keeping in touch with members, especially our younger ones,” says Dan Kivett, a school security officer and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association in California. “ESPs are finding each other online to connect and commiserate as well as organize.”
While posting on multiple platforms is as constant for many ESPs as anyone, says Matthew Powell, a custodian and bus driver with Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky., activity is buoyed before and during national NEA events like Read Across America, American Education Week, and the Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA).
“For those who attended the RA, the ESP Facebook page was a great way to keep abreast of all the action,” he says. “For those who were unable to attend, the page was a way to network with those in D.C. (site of the 2016 RA) as events occurred. It kept them in the game.”
At national NEA events, in particular, the ESP virtual community appears in full force through smartphone use, digital messaging, and other online interactions—complete with photos, videos, and stickers.
Over the years, Connie Boylan of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) has shared information with NEA colleagues on multiple platforms. Last March, when approximately 1,200 ESPs attended the NEA ESP conference in Orlando, Fla., Boylan arranged conference meetings through the ESP Facebook page months in advance with colleagues from the West Coast and Midwest.
“I use Facebook and Twitter a lot and am now getting into Snapchat and Thunderclap for different purposes,” says Boylan, a library media paraprofessional with Traverse City Area Public Schools and MEA ESP caucus president.
“I love seeing how some postings are liked, shared, and tweeted,” she says. “This is just what I’m going
for…social interaction, political feedback, and activism, communication with colleagues at the local, state, and national levels. It’s addicting.”
Lipkin also uses multiple platforms to communicate with an array of followers.
“I use my social media accounts differently depending on my target audience,” she says. “I use my personal blog to state my views and the ESP Facebook page to obtain the latest ESP news.”
Sara Robertson, a senior communications specialist with the NEA ESP Quality Department, launched the ESP Facebook page more than a year ago.
Robertson is elated by the groundswell of support ESPs show one another on the site. But it was the trending around the Orlando ESP conference that surprised her.
“There was so much excitement created prior to the conference by people who were planning to attend,” says Robertson, who administers the site. “As a result, they became friends via the Facebook group by sharing each other’s posts.”
By the time the conference began, all that remained for many conferees was a face-to-face introduction.
“I saw so many ‘can’t wait to finally meet you!’ posts and then at the hotel I actually heard shouts of joy when the connections were made in person,” says Robertson, who worked at the registration and media desks during the conference. “From where I sat, I’d hear squeals from two ends of a hallway and then literally witness members running toward each other and hugging…people who may just have passed each other by had they not met online.”
Beyond logistical support, Lipkin says social media activism provides ESPs with the opportunity to share their opinions, insights, and ideas.
“I use Facebook and Twitter to share inspirational stories and spread ESP awareness,” Lipkin says. “We now have a hub like the ESP Facebook page where thousands of investigators, friends, sympathizers, and cheerleaders can find support and guidance.”
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The Pastor Drives a School Bus
The worlds of community leader Kenneth Dukes often collide in good ways
By John Rosales
On Sundays, the Rev. Kenneth Dukes preaches from the podium of the rural Holly Grove Baptist Church in Jemison, Ala. He’s pastored the church for 13 years. Some of the same children who are there to worship with their families will greet Dukes early the next morning when he picks them up for school.
This pastor has driven a bus for Shelby County Schools since 1988.
“If they listen to you on Sunday, it helps you Monday through Friday,” says Dukes, referring to some of the 40-plus students he picks up daily on his route. “I try to get their respect on Sunday, but when they misbehave they know that I can call their mother or father and they will know me from church.”
Dukes has driven for the county so long that he is now carrying the children of former students and the grandchildren of the classmates with whom he graduated in 1986 from the county’s Montevallo High School. Surprisingly, his most memorable ride involves a group of teachers, administrators, and school trustees.
“They were attending a workshop before the start of the school year and the principal asked me to give them a tour of the community,” says Dukes, who is also president of the 450-member Shelby County Education Support Professionals (SCESP). “Before too long, you could see the tears running down their faces as they saw the impoverished living conditions of some of their students.”
The riders also experienced the reality of driving in an older model school bus during the dense summer heat.
“They said, ‘Turn the air conditioner on,’” Dukes recalls. “I said, ‘It is on!’”
In addition to his SCESP responsibilities, Dukes is a board member with the Alabama Education Association and president of the Shelby County NAACP.
“At the end of the day what is most important is how we help others,” says Dukes, who has a bachelor’s degree in advanced theology from Birmingham Easonian Baptist Bible College.
Dukes and his wife live with two of their four children in the college town of Montevallo, home of the University of Montevallo.
As a result of his varied responsibilities, Dukes often finds that his religious, civil rights, and education worlds merge from time to time.
When Dukes makes his rounds at local hospitals, he may end up seeing an ill student or an NAACP member. As a minister, he often presides at weddings and funerals of former students. A parent from his church once called him in tears with a request that he visit her house and talk with her child who got caught shoplifting. The child was a student Dukes knew from school. Later, the student became a church deacon.
“ESPs are the first and last school employees that students see every day,” Dukes says. “As bus drivers, we are the Alpha and Omega of their school day. It’s very rewarding when students remember you.”
Sequanna Taylor advocates for students as an NEA board member and Milwaukee county supervisor
By John Rosales
After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10 into law in March 2011, Sequanna Taylor was curious about how the new legislation would affect her job as a parent engagement specialist at Golda Meir School in Milwaukee. After investigating, everything she heard from colleagues about this right-to-work law made her temperature rise.
“I learned that the law stripped most public unions of collective bargaining rights and changed the relationship between educators, the union, and school district…for the worse,” Taylor says. The new law also set off something deeply personal within her.
“I drove to the statehouse for a rally and the moment I stepped onto the grounds, I knew I needed to be in the meat of things,” says Taylor, who was recently elected to the NEA Board of Directors. “I saw how my union stepped up for students and schools and I wanted to do my part.”
In 2014, Taylor became president of the Milwaukee Educational Assistants’ Association (MEAA), and a board member with Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). She is also on the Education Support Professionals (ESP) Committee of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). But she hasn’t stopped there.
When a seat opened up for Milwaukee County Board Supervisor of District 2, Taylor joined the race. She was elected in April.
“When that seat became available, I knew I couldn’t just sit around,” she says. “My union prepared and encouraged me to seek higher office.”
A Fresh Voice
With her parents and four children also residing in the district, Taylor has a vested interest in ensuring that the needs of children and the elderly “are not tossed by the wayside.”
“I got into politics to represent, inform, and help my constituents with a voice at the table,” Taylor says.
The MEAA Council represents 850 ESPs and is one of four bargaining units within the 4,500-member MTEA.
As a county supervisor, Taylor has helped to develop a response system that identifies the health, safety, and social needs of families so that children are less distracted by adult issues and freer to focus on their studies.
“I see firsthand how community issues such as affordable housing, proper nutrition, and decent health care overflow into schools,” she says. “How can a student focus on learning when they are worried about their next meal or whether or not they have a place to stay for the night?”
A Milwaukee native, Taylor has an associate degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in human services. She is also a graduate of an eight-month leadership training program sponsored by Emerge Wisconsin, a national organization active in 14 states that prepares women to run for political office.
Taylor says ESPs nationwide are considered by many as the foundation of their schools since more than 70 percent live, shop, vote, and worship in the same district where they work.
“In Milwaukee, many of us, or our children, attended the same schools where we work,” she says. “Community residents are more likely to listen to someone they know…who they see at school and in the neighborhood.”
The Golda Meir School, where Taylor works, serves approximately 750 “gifted and talented” students from third through tenth grades. Some of the school’s families look to Taylor for help locating affordable housing, social services, or even an interpreter for business matters since English is not everyone’s first language.
“I have an open line where they can call me on my cell or email me and I’ll respond,” she says. “When I leave school, it’s not like I’m off.”