If a football team wants to win, it must be able to execute all of the plays in its playbook, not just a couple. That means the quarterback must throw, receivers must catch, running backs must carry the ball, kickers must kick and everyone must execute their blocking assignments.
The same thing goes for the educators in Utah’s schools. Helping students succeed requires every resource available. Everyone knows that teaching is important, but even the greatest teachers need support from the staff who transport students to school, keep the building safe and clean, prepare nutritious meals, offer support in the classroom and manage the library and the front office.
These education support professionals make up one-third of all public school employees, and they play critical roles on the school team, just the same as teachers and principals. Research and practice confirm that long-term student success requires a lot more than a standardized fill-in-the-blanks approach. We have to meet all of the needs of students, ensuring that they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. This is known as the “whole child” approach, and it can only succeed when parents, teachers, administrators and support staff all work together. That’s why we say that it takes the whole team to serve the whole child.
It takes team members like Kent Merkley, a bus driver in the Uintah School District who greets each student by name every morning and then tutors some of them after school. It takes support staffers like the paraeducator who enlists local Eagle Scouts to build a school garden and wheelchair ramp for her special-needs students. It takes staff like the school nurse who works with outside community partners to provide her students with free eyeglasses and also mentors girls in their journeys to become responsible young women.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which school support staff meet all of the needs of students so they can learn in the classroom. Every day, in every public school in every neighborhood, school support staff do all of these things and more: administering medical care, offering individual attention to special-needs students, monitoring the campus for safety concerns, preparing nutritious meals and welcoming students and their families into school buildings.
Just as teachers need ongoing training to stay on top of their game, so do support staff — which is why the National Education Association and the Utah School Employees Association are working to provide more professional development opportunities for support staff. We’re laying the groundwork for a partnership with the National Resource Center for Paraeducators, based at Utah State University, and exploring other ways to help school support staffs excel at their work.
This is American Education Week (Nov. 16-22), a time to reflect on the importance of education in our society and recognize educators for the work they do. Let’s make sure to acknowledge every member of the team that works so hard to help our students succeed.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia is president of the National Education Association. Jerad Reay is president of the Utah School Employees Association.