More than 30 educational support professionals (ESP) gathered at the Atlantic County Council of Education Associations (ACCEA) on Tuesday night to take part in a celebration of their hard work and commitment to public schools. The ESPs came from around the county, and they attended the event as part of ACCEA’s National Educational Support Professionals Day.
The event was organized by Gretta Bohren, president of the Buena Regional Support Staff Association and chair of the ACCEA ESP committee, who wanted to bring union members together to celebrate their work and to educate these often under-appreciated members about the power of their voice within their unions.
“Our county usually has professional development on National ESP Day, but it’s usually Special Education and the ESP. This year we felt it was important to recognize all ESPs,” said Bohren. “This event was an opportunity to meet ESPs from all job classifications and to educate them about their role in their union, a place where they can be heard and will be supported.”
While the focus of the evening was on celebrating ESPs, it also included legislative information. Melissa Tomlinson, vice president of the Buena Regional Education Association and co-chair of the ACCEA Legislative Action Team, gave a detailed update regarding legislation moving through the New Jersey Statehouse right now that pertains to ESPs.
Known to NJEA members as the ESP Job Justice bills, S-296/A-3185/A-3395 and S-3089/A-3664 would prevent privatization during an active collective bargaining agreement and provide just cause through binding arbitration, respectively.
“Because our jobs are not as secure as they should be, it’s important for us to meet with legislators and work to change their minds,” said Tomlinson, emphasizing the role that all NJEA members should play in the passage of these bills.
Those in attendance were encouraged to share their success stories so that others not in attendance might find inspiration in their own local unions. Lorraine Von Hess was honored as the Atlantic County ESP of the Year. She shared the story of her founding the program No Food Left Behind, which helps prevent food waste while feeding those in need.
The event offered space for all in attendance to share and celebrate their successes. Nadine Batchelor-Hale, vice president of the Atlantic City Education Association, spoke about her inspirational journey to an empowered leader in her local union. Amy Collins, a member of the Buena Regional Support Staff Association, shared the story of her involvement in a book drive for the school library where she works. Trina Jenkins, a member of the Pleasantville Education Association, discussed the role she plays in advocating for both parents and students as a 1:1 instructional aide.
“It is important for you to have someone say that you are appreciated, valued, and respected. You deserve a time to shine,” Bohren told the group as the evening concluded.