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Extra Special People

ESPs like Bob Newcomb Get Their Due During American Education Week


By Dave Arnold

For many of our nation’s children, E-S-P does not stand for “education support professionals.” That is a designation for nine K-12 job categories within a system designed by the National Education Association (NEA). Kids are not usually into job categories and descriptions. Too technical. Rather, it’s the individuals occupying jobs who impress kids.

That’s why E-S-P to most school children means Extra Special People. Just ask them.


During American Education Week (Nov. 14-20), NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, ESP of the Year Helen Cottongim, National Council of ESPs President Laura Montgomery and others will hear firsthand what students think of ESPs.

On ESP Day (17th), NEA officials, local politicians, educators and parents will gather at Mt. Vernon Community Elementary School in Alexandria, VA, where students will read thank-you notes and poems dedicated to ESPs. There are similar events like this occurring across the nation in honor of dedicated ESPs like my old bus driver, Bob Newcomb.

Bob Newcomb Knew What to Do

Bob started driving in 1967 for my school district in Brownstown, Illinois. He was almost 26 years old. Bob is not a native of Brownstown. He moved here to be our town barber a few years prior to becoming our bus driver. He’s also been our mayor, fire chief of volunteers, and tax assessor.

Today, after 43 years in town, he is still cutting hair and transporting kids to and from school. He says he has no plans to quit because it is still rewarding, if not a bit challenging at times.

For example, a few years ago, when he was still our fire chief, Bob was close to the end of his bus route when his beeper went off. It indicated there was an emergency at the next house Bob was approaching on his route. He knew the family well and was certain the father of the house was experiencing a heart attack.

Had to Leave the Bus

In rural areas, fire departments have a team designated as first responders in the event of a medical emergency. Their duty is to stabilize the person until an ambulance arrives. Going against the rules that day, Bob stopped the bus at the house and ordered the oldest boy on the bus to keep things under control while he entered the house.

As suspected, the man in the house was conscious but having a heart attack. Bob worked with the man for awhile until he was nearly exhausted himself. He ran back to the bus, retrieved the oldest boy and put another boy in charge of the students.
He told the older boy that he was going to have to assist him in CPR. The boy said he didn’t know anything about CPR. Bob’s response: “You’re going to learn it NOW!” Bob knew that they were the man’s only hope of survival since the house was nearly a half hour away from the first responders and an hour from the nearest ambulance.

Saving a Life

Bob and the boy kept the man stabilized until help finally arrived. They were credited for saving the man’s life. Bob wasn’t supposed to leave his bus for any reason and could have been fired, but it was a matter of life and death. School officials agreed that he made the best choice given the circumstances.

When you consider the number of lives that Bob has touched while transporting students, cutting hair, and serving as fire chief, he is certainly an Extra Special Person. He will not always be our bus driver or our barber. But he always will be a friend to the thousands of people he has served.

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Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


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