Last week, the White House honored School Support Champions of Change who are making a difference in the lives of students every day. These individuals were selected by the White House for their leadership and tireless work to ensure that students in our nation’s schools receive the support and motivation they need to succeed.
School support professionals make up one-third of our nation’s education workforce and often go above and beyond to meet all of the needs of students so they can achieve success both inside and outside of the classroom. It was an honor to have these incredible professionals join us at the White House.
The event featured remarks by Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education Policy Roberto Rodriguez and Dr. Monique Chism, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Below are some reflections that the Champions shared with us before the event:
The skills I learned during my 20-year military career helped me prepare for taking the lead in my everyday job, my involvement in leadership in my union, as a referee for middle and high school basketball and football games, and with the Special Olympics.
I have always made it my personal goal to be a responsible, productive citizen and go above and beyond the call of duty in the workplace and community.
It’s an honor to have been nominated and selected for such a prestigious recognition. My desire to help my fellow coworkers in the capacity of striving to retain their benefits to improve their quality of life on a personal level, as well as a legislative level, has always been important to me.
If we can improve our quality of life, we will have better employees who can put their best foot forward at work for the goal of providing our students the necessary tools they will need to graduate and go forth in life to be productive citizens in our society.
I will continue to strive to help others at work and in my community so we may have a better place to live.
Edward Ammons is a Computer/AV Technician in the Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington.
I am one of seven children born to migrants workers. Over the years, I tried various occupations trying to figure out “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Only recently did I realize that many of my childhood experiences drove me to advocate for others especially when it came to education and equality. Looking back, I saw that I have been doing this despite my fear of public speaking.
I am working on a campaign called Education from Cradle to Career. I believe our children, and future world leaders, need world-class education and that we can make it happen. I recently set up an account for the custodians of our school district to establish two scholarships in the memory of two students who died in December 2015. I have participated in the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Council for early childhood education and I believe early childhood provides a solid foundation that every child needs to build a strong education.
Art is very important to me. I believe art is a great form of expression and children are natural artists. I volunteered for several years at the Lakeville Art Festival and set up a demonstration booth for children to have hands-on experience with pottery. Two programs that I will be participating in are ELL, English as a second language, where the children and volunteers take turns reading to each other, and a lunch program providing meals for children over the summer who otherwise may have to go without.
I feel blessed and honored to be selected as a White House Champion of Change!
Anna Angeles-Farris is the Head Custodian at Oak Hills Elementary in the Lakeville Area Public Schools in Minnesota.
I didn’t know what to expect when I began driving a school bus, but what I did learn is that bus drivers are educators too. Students need to be taught what it means to be respectful, courteous, cooperative and considerate and I knew my responsibilities had to go beyond driving the bus. I am trusted by parents and the school to ensure that students arrive to school safe, ready and eager to learn. As Senator Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village to raise a child”, and I know that I play an important role in students’ lives.
My wife Dee is a bus-driver as well. We started a program called ‘Books on the Bus’ where we provide books to our bus-riding students. Our tag-line is ‘In the Southern Door School District, a student’s education begins the moment they step on the bus.’ We wanted to make their bus-riding experience as educationally positive as possible. We created slip-covers for the bus-seats, so books can be stored. Within arm’s reach a student has all the books they need during their ride to and from school. With elementary students sitting near the front, we offer colorful picture books that the young ones can enjoy. Seats farther back are stocked with more topic specific titles to tempt the older students.
Dee and I developed this program through collaboration with Southern Door’s Reading Specialist Missy Bousley, who was responsible for helping us realize the literacy value of this program. When we asked for donations, the response was overwhelming. Even children were making donations to our program. We were inspired to present the ‘Books on the Bus’ program to the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The program continues to grow and flourish! And school districts all over Wisconsin are now offering similar programs. School district officials realize, as we did, that ‘Books on the Bus’ is a tool that supports, engages and challenges students to read. My wife and I are overjoyed that this simple idea has inspired so many. Today, when I look in my rear view mirror and see my students reading on my bus, I know we’ve made a difference.
Ted Chaudoir is a school bus driver and playground supervisor at Southern Door Elementary School in Brussels, WI. He also is founder of Southern Door County School District’s ‘Books on the Bus’ program.
I wasn’t always the go-to guy at our college, but now everyone knows me and they trust me to help them no matter what they need. Sometimes a student needs a kind word, and I’m happy to give them that. Sometimes they have a problem that seems huge to them and I tell them that it’s no big deal and we talk about the different ways to fix it. I’ve been here for 40 years, and I’ve learned a lot and have fixed an awful lot of problems.
As an arborist, I enjoy making the campus look good for the students, neighbors and the community. I enjoy getting to set up the school for a big event or a soccer tournament. I know these two campuses like the back of my hand. That knowledge helps the students and the administration. I could start the day in the trees and end it in the boardroom, planning a multi-million dollar project.
I couldn’t be more blessed to receive the White House Champions of Change honor and be part of this historic administration. In my life, I’ve seen many changes. I’m honored to have benefited from older generations who paved the way for me. For most of my life, I couldn’t even dream of walking into the White House and receiving such an honor. I am humbled to be able to pass my story on to the next generations so that they, too, can aspire to walk in my shoes. For years, I have been able to teach Black History to people who may not know our past. Now, as I mentor young black men, I can show how I have been able to live my dream.
Gary Cooper is a 40-year employee of the Evergreen Community College District serving Evergreen and San Jose City Colleges. He lives in San Jose and was a California School Employees Association Member-of-the-Year in 2013.
"What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain."
― Maya Angelou
Being a school support professional keeps my fingers on the pulse of the future. I awake each day knowing it is an honor to serve and to breathe- in the life of an educator. Educators are born and bred, not just to serve but to enlighten the path to social change and human empowerment. Social change requires us to take responsibility to educate and lift up our children! As a Substitute Teacher Coordinator at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Georgia, that is a part of my career's mission! I am there every day to lift student spirits, direct them on the right path, and teach them to always respect themselves and to understand their self-worth.
Where did it all begin? My motivation to help others comes from my nurturing parents, engaging family and awe-inspiring teachers. My limitless vision regarding youth development stems from a desire to see our neighborhoods, our cities and our country share in our greatest resource - "our children." A tool of choice that allows me to look at the multiple prisms of a child's success is my doctoral candidacy research project that focuses on student academic performance and its relationship to obesity.
One of the most rewarding things in my life has come from being a community service organizer. I am a member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. , Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter and we pride ourselves on being "the change makers." We promote leadership development and gender equity in the areas of health, education and economic empowerment for women and girls. I am also extremely proud of the non-profit organization that I founded called "NIA." NIA was a social, cultural and educational mentoring program that served 475 girls from the inner city streets of Chicago. Through NIA, we were able to break down many economic, cultural and social cycles that impeded these students' lives. Many of these girls became the 1st high school graduates in their families.
Where will it all end? Only when every child, within my sphere understands they have options for a better life and that they have resources available to make the right choices and become fine upstanding citizens. In a nutshell, a writer and singer once said, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one." - John Lennon
Jeanette Griffin-Kimber is a substitute teacher coordinator for Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, GA and is currently a Doctoral candidate for an Education Administration and Leadership degree.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) has always been a passion of mine. Imagine having the opportunity to help students feel a sense of accomplishment each day!
I have provided students with many career exploration opportunities to prepare them for life after high school. Many students were not college bound at the time. I met with every senior to help them develop a career plan; apply for college, financial aid, scholarships, and apprenticeship programs. I helped them write college essays and resumes, and prepare them for the world of work.
My own three children went through the public school system and I taught them to take advantage of everything their school had to offer, to be involved, and to give back through community service. The students at Bethel High school received the same message from me! You can do anything you want to, but you can’t do it without action.
After 27 years, I still look forward to the opportunity to serve students and staff. Every classified employee knows how difficult it can be at times to work with students. However, it is a labor of love. With heartfelt thanks, I am humbled to be chosen by the White House Champions of Change selection committee for this award.
Doris Hominda is a Career & Technical Education Clerk in the Career & College Readiness Department with the Bethel School District in Spanaway, Washington.
I was an undiagnosed dyslexic and struggled throughout my whole childhood in school. I taught myself to read when I was in my 20s. My childhood was filled with many painful and life-altering experiences, including receiving Christmas gifts addressed to ‘girl’ from ‘Santa.’ I earned my GED at the age of 34. And in 2004, I went to college, which helped me realize how much I love to learn. I have received my Associate degree and I am currently working towards my Bachelor’s. I tell this story because every student should know never to give up. I encourage and remind my students that they have the future in their hands. It is up to them to dream big, work hard and be heroes.
One of my greatest passions is volunteering. I have coordinated volunteers and participated in countless food, winter boot, and backpack school supply drives. Over the past 15 years, I have collected toys that are donated to the Congregational Church of Huntington, NY. The church in turn donates the toys to the annual Family Service League’s Holiday Boutique. The Holiday Boutique allows parents of low-income children to “shop” with dignity for unwrapped gifts for their children. I’ve participated in the annual Breast Cancer Walk at Jones Beach, NY, the annual Cross Bay Distant Memory Swim in Northport Bay and many other community projects. I believe that living a life filled with community outreach and civic mindedness will create a better world. I think it’s important that children learn the importance of community, empathy and being grateful for what they have, so I try to instill a love of community to my students.
Because of the experiences in my childhood, I know all too well that many of our students do not arrive at school whole and happy. I have been blessed to work with an amazing group of educators and we work as a team, each and every day, with a focus on meeting the needs of the whole student. That means that we not only focus on their academics, but also on their health, safety, and social and emotional well-being. Unlike today, when I was a child there was little awareness or support for students with unique learning styles, health and social-emotional needs. I endured many struggles growing up, but now it’s my turn, to give back and make sure that my students get the support that they need to be successful and whole.
Annie McClintock is a special education paraeducator at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, NY. She is also the proud mother of Tom McClintock, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Astrophysics at the University of Arizona, Tucson and Jamie McClintock, a recent graduate of Cornell University with a degree in Computer Science and Software Development.
When I started working in a Special Education class in the Lakeport Unified School District I had no idea that it would be my career. It all started when I became a “room mother” in my son’s kindergarten class and then with the encouragement of my Dad, a teacher and administrator, I applied for a position working in schools because I loved the kids so much.
As a young girl I had many influences in my life. My grandmother was one of them. She shared many stories of her life in Japan that demonstrated her incredible strength and determination. Some of my best memories are of us in her kitchen, cooking together while she shared her life lessons with me. I loved learning her native language. She would talk to me in broken English and then she’d suddenly switch into Japanese. She helped me understand, love and appreciate the diversity and cultures of all. This has helped so much in my career as a paraeducator.
Living in the poorest county in the state of California means that many times our students go without—without food, clothing, fun recreational activities, and without support at home. Many times, our students come to school hungry. The meals they get at school, in some cases, are the only meals they eat the entire day. When a student is having a hard time on the playground, I check to be sure they’ve eaten breakfast; more often than not, they haven’t. But there’s always a snack available for them in my desk drawers.
My students are taught manners, how to cook, how to vacuum, how to plant flowers and garden, and independent living skills that they’ll need to survive. Reading is difficult for my kids. We work hard together to learn the craziness of our English language. I love watching their faces when they finally understand. We celebrate all the little things.
I am so incredibly proud to be a paraeducator. I am so incredibly proud to be part of a group of noble professionals who work to educate the whole child and put students first. And after 29 years of being a paraeducator in the Lakeport Unified School District, I am still as passionate as I was when I walked into my son’s kindergarten class all those years ago.
Doreen McGuire-Grigg is a special education paraeducator at Terrace Middle School in Lakeport, California and the 2016 National Education Association (NEA) Education Support Professional of the Year.
I started my career in the same high school that my mother and nine aunts and uncles attended. It was supposed to be a temporary job, as I intended to return to college and continue on to law school. But after my first year working with students, I knew that this was my calling.
I have now been with the Phoenix Union High School District for over 20 years. Phoenix Union is a Title I inner city urban school district with an 85% Latino population. Unfortunately, people often pre-judge our students and focus only on their deficits. I love our kids, our community and district; and I know our students deserve the best. I know that with just a little more support, our students can achieve their goals and their dreams will become reality. Dropout prevention isn’t a one size fits all approach. All educators must take the time to know and meet the individual needs of each student. I’m passionate about my work with students; I believe all students can succeed.
When we implemented our Dropout Prevention Plan, our district dropout rate was at 22%. Our current dropout rate is 3.2%! This is an achievement I am very proud of because at the same time we have seen increases in our 4-year and 5-year graduation rates. We know that students who graduate from high school are more likely to find gainful employment, have stable families and be productive, contributing citizens. A high school diploma may be the difference between a pathway to prison or a pathway to college or a successful career. I credit much of our success to our staff, alternative and restorative programs, evening school and credit recovery options and community partnerships.
As the oldest of three and the first to attend university, I know that students need caring, individualized and consistent support to have a chance. I had that chance and now my career is to help ensure my students have that same chance to succeed. I am humbled and honored to be an education support professional because every day. I am making a difference in the lives of our students and the future of our country.
Cynthia Tercero-Sandoval is the dropout programs coordinator for Phoenix Union High School in Phoenix, Arizona and a champion for public education and at-risk youth for more than 20 years.
Debbi Sue Partridge
How do I express the feelings and emotions swirling throughout my body when informed of a recognition bigger or more immense than I could possibly imagine? To say being recognized as a Champion of Change for School Support Staff is an honor just does not express the magnitude of this award. My parents instilled some important values in me: the importance of hard work, dedication, dependability, and to be a conscientious employee. Then I would receive the satisfaction of pride in a job well done. I strive to also share with my fellow support staff that we make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve every day-- and that encourages us to keep going. To be chosen nationwide from hundreds of thousands of deserving school support staff is an honor beyond my wildest dreams.
A typical day for me at Modesto Junior College is to arrive before the sun comes up to prepare classrooms for the faculty and students. I ensure that the media technology is in proper working order in the classrooms. Technology is essential in today’s higher education, as those students who we serve will require technology in their lives no matter what their ultimate career goal.
My joy for my job does not end at the end of the workday; I have always loved to do the extra things for my students and my community. In February, I was part of a “Sock & Shoe Drive” where we collected shoes & socks to be delivered to the Modesto Salvation Army and the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency. We collected 172 pairs of shoes and 43 pairs of socks.
I recently helped with a restoration project for The Tuolumne River Trust, working to return the land to its original state after years of agricultural use. This land is a major “highway” for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway, in addition to providing flood plains for the wet winters. I spent the day planting trees, berry bushes and roses that will provide a habitat for local birds and animals.
I’m a participant in the “Relay for Life” in Modesto, representing many friends and my mom as proud cancer survivors. Whether I’m doing a food run, Band-Aid run, a trek around the track or a hug for comfort and encouragement, it is all for a good cause. This 24-hour event is a highlight for our community where I see many friends and colleagues participating to help fight this dreadful disease.
Between work and my personal life, I hope I personify a commitment to service. I do not perform my job for the recognition; I do it to help others. I've worked for the college district for 38 years and have always been proud of my career, and this is definitely the cherry on top.
Debbi Partridge is a Multi-Media Technician for the Yosemite Community College district working in Modesto, California. She’s actively involved in her community and was a California School Employees Association Member-of-the-Year in 2015.
I have been involved with children since I was old enough to babysit. I enjoyed helping 2nd graders learn their prayers, helping in an elementary school classroom and assisting students with disabilities get to and from school at a young age. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher, but believed that college was out of my reach. I had four siblings and although my parents were very hard workers, with full time factory jobs, college did not seem like an option. In hindsight, things worked out for the better. As a paraprofessional, I work with students on a different level than a teacher would. I love it! The Special Education Director of the Little Falls Community Schools hired me right out of high school. I had a job at a middle school working with children; a job I have loved for almost 41years. Throughout those years, I have taken many workshops, classes at St. Cloud State University, graduated with an Educational Assistant Certificate from Ridgewater College and earned my Paraprofessional Credential in the state of Minnesota.
I love challenges and new experiences especially when it comes to working with students. I embrace the opportunity to learn new ways to assist in their learning process. I have worked with many students throughout the years. Each student is unique, with unique strengths and abilities. I have learned over time that building on those strengths and abilities really makes a difference in the success each child experiences in school. I believe that my job as a paraprofessional is to foster independence, encourage growth, and allow each student to experience their individual success as I reinforce what is taught by the classroom teacher. Being a positive role model and treating everyone with respect is the greatest example one can set, especially when working with children.
I am so excited and honored to be chosen as one of the Champions of Change; to be blessed with a job that I love and then to be honored for doing that job well is amazing!
Cindi Trettel is currently a PCA/Education Paraprofessional working in Little Falls, Minnesota where she has been dedicated to students for over 40 years.
I am so honored to be recognized as a School Support Staff “Champion of Change.” I know that we facilitate change in students’ lives each day. My journey as a Paraeducator has been enhanced over the years by the students that have crossed my path, watching them develop and become successful graduates within the Laguna Beach Unified School District. I am fortunate to have raised my daughter, Sabrina Johnson, in the same town where I work, live, and am an active member of my community.
As an Intervention Paraeducator, my satisfaction comes from working with young students to help them excel in their reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. This is such a gratifying experience! It is so important to connect book knowledge and other forms of education to real world applications for our students. I love using “keyword skills” that allow them to explore and expand information throughout their lifelong learning journey. For all educators, both inside the classroom and outside, the reward is when the “light bulb” goes on and everything comes together through my approach of awareness, advocacy, and action. I use this philosophy in all aspects of my life. For 12 years, I have loved every moment working with my students; this honor is the pinnacle of my career. I am forever grateful to be recognized in this way, and hope to be able to share this honor with all who have helped me and my students along the adventure of life.
Margaret Warder is an Intervention Paraeducator living in Aliso Viejo, California and working in Laguna Beach. She was a California School Employees Association Member-of-the-Year in 2015.