2015 ESP of the Year Speech at the 2015 Representative Assembly – Paraeducator Janet Eberhardt

Orange County Convention Center – Orlando, Florida
Saturday, July 4, 2015

First of all, hello NEA. I know it’s late. Moving into the evening but I’d like to take a moment and just thank my California Teachers Association for all their support through the years. You know, as I was preparing myself to do this, many of you have been so gracious and kind, and each one of you just said for me to be myself. That’s a dangerous territory. But I hope I can do you proud, and I hope you all claim me after all my bloopers.

My name is Janet Eberhardt and I am a proud education support professional. I work as a Community Relations Specialist and an Elementary Advisor with the San Francisco Unified School District. I am truly honored, humbled and excited to be the recipient of the 2015 NEA ESP of the Year award. This award goes back 23 years and I want pay tribute to all the previous ESPs who held this prestigious title before me. I know I am following in the footsteps of powerful trailblazers who understand the commitment to meeting the needs of the whole student. Thank you for all you did, and all you continue to do.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the 2014 STATE ESPs of the Year awardees. Please know that I carry your energy and your love with me here onstage. You are the shining light for students, heroes for families, leaders for your union, champions and partners in and out of the classroom and a force to be recognized in your profession. ESPs, brothers and sisters, be proud, and continue to go the extra mile for your students, for our students.

I am honored to stand before such a dedicated crowd of educators from all over the country. I applaud you. ESPs, early childhood educators, K-12 teachers, higher ed educators, school social workers, counselors, nurses and all the amazing professionals who teach students. NEA, that’s you! Amazing educators! We are all doing great work educating our future.

I love this year’s theme: NEA Unite. Inspire. Lead. It perfectly encompasses all the work we educators and delegates do every day. We untie by coming together to fight against inequity and injustice. We inspire students to find their greatness and we challenge each other to give our best in our jobs each day. As educators, we know that every effort made can impact a students’ life. We could have chosen a different career, but we chose to work with students. And the work we do is so important —particularly for our many families living in poverty. We provide the most successful tool needed to break the cycle of poverty–an education.

We all have countless examples of when we’ve gone the extra mile to make sure our students’ basic needs were met. We have provided food when hungry, arranged transportation, provided school supplies, offered an ear, while sharing words of encouragement and comfort. We are always there to support and inspire. We say, “You can do it! Don’t give up! I believe in you!”

Many of us feed the brain, but all of us feed the soul.

We’re fortunate to be able to reach, teach and inspire students every day. I have a saying that I have shared with my colleagues through the years. I say, “It’s simple LOGIC.” Listen with love, Observe for Understanding, Guide with focus, Inform for Knowledge, and Care must be genuine.

Our work makes a difference– from placing a bandaid on a cut, to finding a student a winter coat, or filling a backpack with food so a student can eat over the weekend. Through our acts of love, our dedication and efforts, we show them that students, families, and communities—that they matter. And on top of all that, we teach their students to read, write, do math and most of all–to value learning. Together we are making a better tomorrow.

We know that each dollar spent out of our own pocket and each minute we spend with a student is an investment in their future. But we are spending more and more of our own money, as education budgets become less and less. Teachers, education support professionals and higher ed faculty are fighting for the resources we need to do our jobs. We are fighting against poor evaluation systems. We are fighting to keep our collective bargaining rights and our pensions. We’re fighting against budget cuts that kill off quality programs. We’re fighting against layoffs and privatization, and we’re fighting for a living wage.

We are all fighting against the negative impact of standardized tests on our students, which we all see during testing time. Bus drivers and food service professionals see the stress on students’ faces as they struggle to remember facts and review materials on the way to school or during meal time. School nurses, counselors, health aides, you treat the students for the physical and emotional effects of test, tests, and more tests. And paraeducators work so hard to help students with special needs, to sit, to focus and get through those standardized tests, which do little to measure the huge success those students have made socially and physically.

That’s why Congress must pass an ESEA reauthorization bill as soon as possible that works for educators and their students. I’m so proud that paraeducators and other ESPs have united with teachers through NEA to advocate for strong federal education bill—for a strong education bill. Together, we are working to make sure that Congress includes provisions to make sure all students, all students, have access to qualified paraeducators.

The easiest thing you can do to support this effort is to pull out your phone and go to www.getESEAright.com. I know, we’ve done this before. How many times do we have to tell them to get it right? www.getESEAright.com. Or go to NEA’s Legislative and Political Action Center and write a letter to your Senator urging them to support The Every Child Achieves Act. Thank you all. Thank you to all. All of you that have already contacted your member of Congress to tell them that paraeducators are key members of the instructional team.

It’s easy to say that some fights are for teachers and some are for ESPs. But all of these issues impact our students and our communities. So we must be united. We must have a united front for our students and public schools–teachers and ESPs working together as advocates. When we unite, we see more parental engagement, less absenteeism, higher graduation rates, fewer suspensions, and more student achievement.

Many of you have heard about the WHOLE CHILD/WHOLE STUDENT initiative developed by ASCD. NEA built off their good work, which is all about meeting our students’ emotional, social, and physical needs, so they can be successful in and out of the classroom. And we all know that when we take a whole school, a whole community, the whole student approach to learning, our students succeed.

What is the phrase? It takes a village. NEA, we are the village!

I wanna give a shout out to the entire staff of Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington to Debby Chandler, a building rep and parent community specialist. Many of you heard her incredible story at the Empowered Educators Day. Debby and the staff came together and applied for a school improvement grant to turn around Rogers poor graduation rate. With all hands on deck and with the help of the NEA’s Priority Schools program, Rogers High School graduation rate went from 49 percent to 82 percent in just three years! Rogers staff used the new funds to provide community support services to students, because they knew that students cannot succeed unless they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. And it’s working!

In San Francisco, my union pushed hard for professional development for both teachers and ESPs, and it has been a key model used at various school sites. We’ve created a Professional Learning Community where the entire staff collaborates and plans so we are addressing the students’ needs. Together we are making a real difference in their education. Mentorship programs are a key part of this, and the entire staff—teachers, administrators, paraeducators, custodians, bus drivers, security officers, the office support personnell—and all, serve as mentors to students. By working together to plan, advocate and innovate, the whole school team can support the whole student.

Schools are an ecological system and children are at the center. We must be united — whole school, whole community–to do whatever it takes. All students, regardless of their zip code, deserves the support, the tools, and the time to learn. We care about our students. We are the ones pushing back against those who see public education as their personal piggy bank, and students as a dollar sign. So let’s continue to unite, and fight to provide opportunities for all students.

In conclusion, I stand before you as an educator who believes in the whole student, the whole community, the whole school approach to learning. For me, it’s a personal issue. It is personal. My daughter, Ena, is a product of public schools and an example of success. I’d like to give a shout out to my beautiful, and wonderful daughter. She truly is my joy, and my strength. Thank you, thank you Baby, for always staying by my side while I keep on going the extra mile. That’s one of the many lessons that I’ve taught her, and the many students through the years. Go the extra mile.

And now NEA, I challenge of you to KEEP on going the extra mile. You can do it. We can do it, side by side, teachers, ESPs, all educators. NEA–Unite! Be Inspirational! Lead by going the extra mile. It’s just what we do.

I want to thank You NEA. Thank you for this amazing, amazing honor. And I leave you with these words: Be bold, be strong and keep on keepin’ on!