Public educators have big jobs to do each day, and equally large expectations of their students. Teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) work together to give kids every opportunity they need to succeed in life by providing a supportive and nurturing environment in which they can learn. Nothing can disrupt this process more than behaviors, and both educators and students are negatively affected by these harmful interruptions.

Alexis Mathias, a paraprofessional for Clara Barton Elementary School in Fargo, is a shining example of the professionals at work in schools all across our state, dedicated to working directly with students who are dealing with the harshest traumas in their personal lives. She is a behavior technician for students, and in the words of her sister, Jennifer Mastrud, vice president of Fargo Education Association, Alexis “goes in when others want to walk out.”

“She impacts student success in her school by creating a safe space for them to release and to relearn how to deal with life and what they have been dealt by no fault of their own,” Mastrud said. “She is calm for many students to remain centered and ready to learn again. She is teaching these kids the methods to be successful young adults.”

On Monday, Nov. 25, at Clara Barton School, Mathias was working with a group of her students in the back of the school gym at a schoolwide assembly that Principal Becky Folden had announced for that day under the guise of unveiling the new name for the school’s mascot husky, Coco Blue Husky. After their costumed mascot helped get all of the students in attendance hyped up and in the proper mood for celebration, North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta was brought into the room to present Mathias with the 2019-20 NDU ESP of the Year award.

“I was totally shocked and had no idea this was coming,” Mathias told President Archuleta in comments after the presentation. She said she was especially appreciative of her colleagues, who worked together to make Mathias’ day extra special the same way they collaborate each and every day to take special care of every student in their school. “I have a really good relationship with all my colleagues,” she said, “and I am very lucky to have them as my colleagues. They’re awesome!”

One of those colleagues, Julie Hetland, nominated Mathias for this award, and the two of them worked together to raise the ESP membership rate in NDU to 66% of school support staff at Clara Barton, the highest percentage of ESPs of any building in Fargo Public Schools.

“Alexis does so many great things,” Hetland said. “She is always looking for new ways to help all kids; her newest undertaking are sensory paths for our school. She is on the Safety Committee for FPS, the Executive Board for FEA and the Clara Barton Hawthorne Social Committee. … I am very grateful to be able to work with Alexis and call her a friend.”

Mastrud additionally nominated Mathias for the state honor and co-presented the award at the school ceremony. “Her work with our at-risk students dealing with trauma has been at the root of many statewide conversations,” Mastrud said. “For her to be highlighted shows the importance of getting more of these roles in the schools.”

Mathias will now go onto the National Education Association’s yearly ESP Conference in New Orleans this coming March as our state’s nominee for the national ESP of the Year award. She will be bringing back everything she learns at the national level to North Dakota, and will be sharing those lessons at the NDU ESP Conference, scheduled for April 25 in Jamestown. Save the date, and plan to join with your fellow members of NDU in congratulating Alexis and learning with her on how we can all work together to provide a safe learning environment for every student in our state.