National ESP Day celebrated

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and MTA President Paul Toner serving lunch.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, right, and MTA President Paul Toner serve lunch to Jett DuVal, 11, and other students in the cafeteria at the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton in celebration of national Education Support Professionals Day on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and MTA President Paul Toner dished up lunch to students at the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to honor the important role of the nation’s ESPs.

The pair were set to visit the Parlin School in Everett on Thursday, Nov. 21, as part of American Education Week.

Wednesday’s lunchtime visit was the first of several events in Massachusetts recognizing the contributions of ESPs on national Education Support Professionals Day. The cafeteria visit was followed by an informal reception in the school library that allowed Van Roekel, Toner and Kevin Concannon, U.S. undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture, to meet the school’s ESPs. School librarians were presented with a $500 check from the NEA for library books.

“American Education Week is a perfect time to honor the work of all educators,” Toner said. “They dedicate their lives to helping students succeed, and they should be recognized for their service to their schools and their communities. “I am proud to be an educator myself – and proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in education by many measures of student achievement,” he added.

Among those attending were Sharon Carlson, president of the Northampton Association of School Employees; Donna Johnson, president of the University Staff Association at UMass Amherst; and school Principal Lesley Wilson.

On Wednesday afternoon, Toner and Van Roekel attended the second annual Safe School Summit, which was presented by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in Northampton and co-sponsored by the MTA and the NEA. The program offered educators the knowledge and tools they need to meet the needs of young people who are dealing with mental health issues.  

After the summit, MTA members were invited to attend a reception in honor of ESPs across the nation. Among those speaking Wednesday was Jean Fay, former Massachusetts ESP of the Year. Also on hand were Laura Montgomery, president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals, and Donna Schulze, NEA’s ESP of the Year and a paraeducator from Maryland.

On Thursday, Toner and Van Roekel – joined by several celebrity guests – will continue to recognize the great work that educators do with students across the state and the nation. The leaders will visit the Parlin School in Everett for an “Educator for a Day” event. They will be accompanied by Billy Costa, host of the popular “High School Quiz Show,” which is televised on WGBH; former Celtics player Dana Barros; and Boston Mamas blogger Christine Koh. The three plan to shadow educators in their classrooms.

Kim Auger, president of the Everett Teachers Association, and Parlin Principal Michelle Massa will host the afternoon’s events, which will also include a visit to kindergartners by Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster. A reception will follow for Parlin educators to meet with Toner and Van Roekel. Wally will also present a $500 check from the NEA to the school to help buy library books.

Van Roekel said the weeklong nationwide celebration of American Education Week “recognizes all of those around us who are working to make public schools great for every student.” Excellent public schools “are a basic right, and our responsibility,” he said.