By Heidi Schostek, NDU member

Many people are unaware of what an Educational Support Professional is and what they do. Breaking it down, each individual term is simple enough to understand. Education involves teaching and learning, support means encouragement, and a professional is a respected and valued employee. Education Support Professional (ESP) is an umbrella job title for the behind-the-scenes employees of school districts. They include classroom and special education paraprofessionals, school secretaries, janitors and kitchen staff.  More than being integral parts of every school district in our state, ESPs are also parents, grandparents, wives, husbands and students. They are a vital part to the community of Dickinson.

Education support professionals from Dickinson High School.

ESPs come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.  Some of these employees have worked over 25 years for the school district, while others have found this career later in life or are even just getting started. Many of them maintain second jobs to help support their families while being able to continue doing such rewarding work with children in the community. The ESPs of the Dickinson school district represent diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. But the one thing that all ESPs have in common is a love for what they do.

ESPs LOVE working with young people. Whether it’s working one-on-one with a student to discover a lifelong joy of reading or helping solve that tough math problem, being an ESP is a truly rewarding career.

One of our paras said, “It is such a wonderful feeling to help students reach their goals! To watch a student struggle with a concept, persevere and understand it, is very special. The students make going to work every day worth it, they are the reason I love my job!” Every day is a new day to make a positive impact in the lives of children. According to one of the head cooks, “It feels great to help feed the kids breakfast and lunch and to know that we help them get through the day with full bellies!” Or as one ESP described, “Seeing a student after graduation and they say ‘I would never have graduated if it weren’t for you!’”  The reward of seeing students change and grow is a priceless benefit of being an ESP.

It is such a wonderful feeling to help students reach their goals! To watch a student struggle with a concept, persevere and understand it, is very special. The students make going to work every day worth it, they are the reason I love my job!

The struggle of an ESP is the inability to reach all students or occasional chaos of working with young children. The endeavor of advocating for student needs while not compromising standards. Balancing student necessities and abilities while also helping the student reach teacher expectations. Changes in routine or staff can be hard on many students. These are all obstacles they face and attempt to manage but the biggest struggle is knowing they can’t help every child when everyone so badly wants them all to succeed. For all professionals that work daily in the schools, the pros outweigh the cons.  Perhaps it is a smile from a non-verbal special needs child, or the satisfaction of a table full of students eating the food that was prepared for them by the hardworking kitchen staff.  At the end of each day, an ESP knows that they made a difference. “We never know what goes on outside of school hours and that makes it even more important to make their time with us educational, safe and fun!” as one ESP put it. How many other professions can say they made a difference in the life of a child every day?

On behalf of the Dickinson Education Association and North Dakota United, we would like to acknowledge all the hard work and tireless effort that these individuals put into our children and community. The DEA is proud to have them as part of our association and look forward to working with new members as they join! For information on becoming a member, please visit www.ndunited.org or talk to the building rep at your school!