The Often Unsung School Superheroes
Education Support Professionals Play Pivotal Role during COVID-19 Pandemic
By Angela Deines, KNEA Communications
“We just can’t shut down everything. The transcripts have to go out, the schools need to be sanitized, the food still has to go out. The paras are still meeting with their students and their supervising teacher.”– Cortney Cox, Emporia High School registrar and Emporia EA member
Do you do it for the money or do you do it for the love?
That’s the question William Collins poses to his fellow Education Support Professionals, the unsung heroes of the U.S. public education system. For the Kansas NEA 2019 ESP of the Year and member of NEA-KCK, the answer is easy: He does it for the love.
“My heart is in education,” Collins said. “I actually wanted to be a teacher.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Kansas ESPs have been the proverbial “jack of all trades.” They’ve distributed meals and 1:1 devices to students, educational packets to families and have done whatever else is needed to ensure children receive services and continuous learning during the pandemic.
“We were doing the work that had to get done,” Collins said. “When they need us, we’re there.”
While he previously was a classroom paraprofessional, Collins said he has now moved into another newly-created position – school safety associate – that supports the Kansas City Kansas USD 500 police department.
“We’re trying to build relationships as mentors,” he said. “I’m doing the same thing I was doing as a para but just not in the classroom.
Collins said his calling has been to help older students at Northwest Middle School and now Wyandotte High School in a variety of ways, including coaching youth sports.
“They know who I am and my expectations,” he said, adding that he has become a father figure to many of the students he has mentored and coached over the years. “Those expectations carry over and those kids understand that. I encourage those kids to be the best they can be. I’ve always done that.”
Since Northwest Middle School is a feeder school to Wyandotte High, Collins said he’s been able to have a more sustained impact on some of the youth who have attended both schools and who, in his words, were “hard to reach.”
“I grew up like some of these kids,” Collins continued. “I was one of them so I understand and they relate and they commit.”
- The DNA of an ESP http://www.nea.org/home/14586.htm
- NEA Paraeducator Member At-A-Glance http://www.nea.org/home/67119.htm
- ESP History and Background http://www.nea.org/home/41393.htm
- National Council for Education Support Professionals http://www.nea.org/home/National-Council-for-Education-Support-Professionals.html
As registrar at Emporia High School, Cortney Cox said her role as an ESP during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed drastically, nor the roles of the estimated 50 ESPs in the Emporia NEA.
“We just can’t shut down everything,” she said. “The transcripts have to go out, the schools need to be sanitized, the food still has to go out. The paras are still meeting with their students and their supervising teacher.”
Cox said Emporia USD 253 paraprofessionals still have to do prep work as part of the continuous learning process and aren’t “just sitting at home, collecting a paycheck,” she said.
On the other end of the K-12 spectrum, Cheryl Haas, an elementary school registrar and member of Maize EA, said she’s busy working at home during the COVID-19 crisis. She said she and other registrars in Maize USD 266 are processing enrollments, answering parent questions via phone and email and responding to data and other requests from teachers and administrators.
“We answer all those incoming emails and direct them to the right place so kids can get enrolled and the counselors can get those placements (in the buildings),” she said. “If I don’t enter the student, they’re not there.”
Haas admits that she feels “a little out of sorts” not working in her school building right now but she also knows the job she’s doing – along with other non-certified staff – is important for the functioning of the school district.
“In the big scheme of things, everyone has to work together,” she said. “One cog is just as important as the next. Everybody’s doing a great job.”
Tresia Hassan works in the curriculum budget office at KCKPS USD 500 and is the ESP representative on the Kansas NEA board of directors. She said because she lives in the community where she works, she’s able to emphasize the role classified staff play in the education of their children.
“I’m always reminding parents that we all work with teaching,” Hassan said. “It’s not just the teachers who are in their schools teaching their students. We as ESPs are an integral part of their education.”
While ESPs continue to work during the COVID-19 crisis, she wants her district’s administrators to remember they will also be an important part of how the district functions once school resumes.
“We play a pivotal part of what happens,” Hassan said. “We’ll have a lot of work to do when we get back.”