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Member Spotlight

Debra Ward-Mitchell: 2022 ESP of the Year

Debra Ward-Mitchell is a paraeducator in Holland, Illinois and 2022 ESP of the Year
Debra Ward-Mitchell receives the ESP of the Year award
Published: 04/04/2022

In 2019 I lost my mom, who was my best friend. And then COVID happened, and I lost 60 people in my circle—friends, family, coworkers, and it has been rough. But I have never stopped working. I never stopped supporting. As ESPs, we work so hard and so tireless, and we often do not get the recognition we need or we earn.

As local president and [2022 ESP of the Year], I feel I have a responsibility to each and every ESP member. The responsibility to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable at their worksite; that their contract is not violated; that they have opportunity for growth and leadership; and that their well-being is not compromised.

It’s very important that all ESPs know their worth and value. When inviting the members to conferences and meetings, I send personal invites, not group emails. I engage in one-on-one conversations with members. I ask about their families and activities they enjoy outside of work. I support them if they coach or sponsor activities.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day.

During the pandemic, our buildings and grounds men were deemed essential workers. They worked on site every day and couldn’t take days off. They were exhausted. I bought lunch bags and filled them with goodies and a gas gift card. They needed to know that while everyone else was working from home, our thoughts and prayers were with them in the trenches. I wanted them to know that their work mattered, and we supported them. I went to each worksite to hand deliver the bags.

On the state level, it was my suggestion that ESPs that do not sit on the Council be allowed to serve on ESP Council subcommittees. This will ensure their involvement and an opportunity for more ESPs to be involved on the state level.

As a union leader, I want to eradicate the negative perception of ESPs. I’m on a mission to ensure that all ESPs share the feeling of pride and purpose. It is not ‘just a’ job, it is an admirable career. A career that provides support, love and respect to every child that crosses our path.

I love what I do. It is a career that I chose. It’s a career that is honorable and respectful. I intend to show everyone our value, our worth as education support professionals.

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.