I went to school in East Orange, New Jersey, where my mother was a classroom teacher. She retired after 44 years and in that time I saw firsthand how selfless she was with her students and their families. If a family couldn’t afford school supplies, she would buy them. She would make sure students had lunch money or even clean clothes to wear for school the next day. My mother was also a hardcore union member. She was an activist, organizer, and political organizer. She always gave of herself and that inspired me to go into education and join my union, the East Orange Maintenance Association.
But I didn’t just sign up to be a member and leave it at that. I’ve long held a passion to serve our members, which led me to run for different leadership positions—from building rep and New Jersey Education Association delegate assembly member to NJEA Executive Committee member, which in Essex County no ESP has ever held. These positions have allowed me to advocate for our members. And as the local president of the East Orange Maintenance Association, I’ve been able to offer our members professional development that is career and content based—and designed by the union.
Last year, we rolled out NEA’s ESP Professional Growth Continuum, which serves as a roadmap of how ESPs can grow professionally. This year, we proved Aces and trauma informed trainings. We learned how trauma formulates in children, how it goes through different stages, and how the brain actually interprets and reacts to certain kinds of trauma. As a result, some of our members were identifying their own trauma. Our union was able to offer avenues for them to get help. That was an eye opener moment for me because if we can’t address our own issues, how can we be effective for our own students?
And in April 2020, we will be the first local in the state of New Jersey to host an ESP professional development weekend conference that’s free to members. It’s going to be a full weekend of professional development and engagement around NEA’s professional growth continuum.
These types of professional opportunities have led to membership growth, too. Within one year, the membership has gone from 32 to now almost 400 members. Other ESPs have heard about the great work that we’re doing within the association. They believe in this work and in our cause, and they want it.
Being allowed the opportunity to do this work and being trusted by the membership with their careers, professional growth, and wages and working conditions is empowering because at the end of the day when people walk up to me and say, 'because of you, we now can,' that’s the most rewarding aspect of this work.