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Member & Activist Spotlight

SPARKS Ignites a Political Passion

Rochelle Greenwell is a Paraeducator in Kent, Washington
Rochelle Greenwell photographed outdoors Moses Mitchell
Published: July 14, 2023

It takes a lot to impress me, but when I attended my first Poli SPARKS training in Olympia, Washington all I could say was, “Wow!”  The Poli SPARKS program is a hands-on experience offered at the time by the Washington Education Association (WEA) for all educators in their first six years of working as an educator in the public school system. Poli SPARKS gives participants the opportunity to learn how lobbying works.

I attended Poli SPARKS in 2018. I was still in the early stages of understanding how unionism worked, but I knew I wanted to become a part of both WEA and the Kent Association of Paraeducators (KAP), my local, and learn how to help education support professionals like me receive the professional development that is relevant to our jobs as paraeducators. After that weekend, I not only was versed on the union’s political advocacy, I knew I discovered a passion.

Early on, I knew that lobbying was something I would enjoy and be good at, even though it was a little disquieting at first. I believe you should empower yourself if you have a challenging task ahead, and it was this mentality that helped me land appointments with even the most elusive of lawmakers. The next hurdle to clear was making the most of the allotted time. I am a slow talker by nature and like to listen more than I like to talk. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy to get all your points across in 15 minutes or less.

To me, lobbying is about making a strong argument and designing a personal connection.

One of the first bills I lobbied for was Senate Bill 1115, which funded 28 hours of professional development for paraeducators paid for by the state. I was inspired and honored to be the voice of advocacy for all paraeducators in Washington, and I was so proud when the bill was passed and implemented in 2019.

Six years after attending my first Poli SPARKS, scores of lobbying visits, and countless union meetings, I am now president of the Kent Association of Paraeducators, 400 members strong. It’s a role that I take seriously. My first order of business was to visit schools and connect with members and potential members. Thus far, I have been able to visit 22 schools! I have a strong desire to meet people where they are and let them know the union is there for them – and I am there for them. This was especially important after the pandemic. It is also my job to identify leaders in our schools and train them to make a difference and get involved just like I have.

Most days still feel chaotic to me. I’m working in the classroom, leading the KAP, and being a mom to my 25-year-old daughter. I’m not complaining though. These are the roles I cherish, and they are the roles I know will make a difference to the next generation.

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.