A constant, comforting presence

Meet 2023 Bergen County  ESP of the Year Linda Kerwin

Linda Kerwin lives across the street from the school where she works as a paraprofessional in Bergenfield. She began her career working for the Fiat Corporation, but after having two daughters, she started working in the school’s lunchroom.  

“It worked out perfectly because my husband is a custodian in Dumont, and I got to see my daughters at school,” Kerwin says.  

Slowly, over time, the school took hold of Kerwin’s life. She was initially asked to help out with specials for students with special needs. She said “Of course,” even as she continued to work in the lunchroom. Then, she was asked to be a teacher’s aide in the preschool program. After 16 years, she was asked to be a one-on-one aide with a kindergartener in a wheelchair. Through it all, the lunchroom work was a constant.  

After working in the resource room with early elementary students, Kerwin now finds herself working with fourth and fifth graders.  

“I really like working with the children,” Kerwin says. “Some kids are challenging, but the good outweighs the bad. When I started, some of these kids were so fragile, but now I see them as grown-ups and it’s amazing.”  

Kerwin loves seeing her students grow and thrive.  

“One of my preschool students has gone on to become a speech therapist,” Kerwin says. “She travels the world for work. She came to the school to do an internship and I couldn’t believe that she remembered me. I’m so proud of her!” 

Kerwin has seen a lot of changes over the course of her career, and she has become a fierce advocate for educational support professionals.  

“People need to see what we do for our students,” Kerwin says. “We are doing real, physical labor in a compassionate way. I don’t know how many times I was hit or had a chair thrown at me. We have students who wear diapers. Yet so many of our members don’t even receive health benefits because the district holds them as ‘part-time’ employees.” 

Kerwin is a building representative and serves on the negotiations committee. She fights for all the members, regardless of job category.  

“I was shocked when I was named the Bergen County ESP of the Year,” Kerwin says. “I’m not one who puts the spotlight on myself. I called up the people who nominated me and asked, ‘Why did you do that?’ They laughed at me and told me I fight for our members—for everyone—and that I deserve it.”