A lot of things have changed in school cafeterias over the decades. Meals were once prepared from scratch. State regulations didn’t prevent the cafeteria from providing food at a meeting where staff or members of the public were in attendance. And a district would never consider bringing in a private company to handle food services.
At Glen Landing Middle School in Gloucester Township, Camden County, Cafeteria Manager Marge Vallieu views these changes as challenges. No matter what happens in Trenton or at a local board of education meeting, she is determined to make a difference in her school and community.
It’s that sense of dedication that earned Vallieu the title of NJEA 2012 Educational Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. NJEA has been honoring the state’s best ESPs for the last 11 years.
“I was just floored when I learned I was the state ESP of the Year,” beams Vallieu. “But I welcome the opportunity to show that ESP members across New Jersey play important roles in their schools and communities.”
Many might view Vallieu’s position as one of preparing food and creating menus, but she understands that there is much more to her work.
“I am a trusted adult and mentor to my students,” Vallieu notes. “Teachers often ask if I can get to the bottom of a problem because a student would not open up to them. I gladly intervene. Sometimes the student just needs a smile or a hug, other times they need a sounding board. I treasure the opportunity to help a child feel cared about, confident, and safe.”
Vallieu also makes her mark on the Gloucester Township community at large.
“After 9/11, I thought a lot about how our local first responders often don’t get the recognition they deserve. We decided to have a heroes luncheon.”
Vallieu combined the event with the school’s annual Thanksgiving lunch. Everyone got involved—her fellow ESP, teachers, students, and administrators. For eight years, the luncheon was a huge success and was even featured on NJEA’s television show “Classroom Close-up, NJ”.
But Vallieu doesn’t view these efforts as work. “These endeavors are fulfilling to me personally and they also show that ESPs are an active and caring part of the community.”