H undreds of education support professionals gathered recently on Cape Cod for two days of learning, networking and celebration.
A highlight of the MTA ESP Conference, held
April 10 and 11 in Falmouth, was the announcement
that Michelle Elwell, a teacher assistant at Rockport
Middle School, has been named MTA’s Education
Support Professional of the Year.
In accepting the honor on the first evening of the
conference, Elwell told her fellow ESPs, “My story
is your story. We show up, we work with some very
difficult situations, and we do whatever we can to
help the students find success each day.”
Elwell is known for her boundless energy while
she’s in the classroom, in her work before and after
school in the Homework Club, and in her dedication
as the field hockey coach.
She is a former president of her local, the
Rockport Educational Support Staff Association, and
she has served on the association’s bargaining team.
She continues to serve as the
treasurer of her local, a position
she has filled for the past three
In introducing Elwell,
Robert V. Travers, Jr., a member
of the MTA Executive and ESP
committees, pointed to her
commitment to her students
and her volunteer work in the
community, which includes,
Congregational Church of Rockport and the Old
Sloop Community Fair. In 2013, she received a
National Honor Society Community Service Award.
Elwell spoke for herself and ESPs as a group.
“I’ve always said that my job is like putting a Band-Aid on something that needs 30 stitches, so a sense
of humor is key,” she remarked.
At the end of some days, she said, “I think,
‘How can I do this again tomorrow?’” And then she
answered her own question. “The community, the
service and the kids are the driving force. They are
B efore the presentation, MTA President Barbara Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson addressed the crowd.
Madeloni said she saw “a room packed with
power” as she looked out at the hundreds of ESPs
in the audience. She reminded them that while their
workdays are spent empowering the students in their
care, ESPs also hold tremendous power to shape
their workplaces and communities.
Anderson, a Taunton fifth-grade teacher, said,
“There isn’t a school that can function without ESPs.”
She went on to express the profound gratitude of the
entire school community for the work done by ESPs.
The conference, held at the oceanfront Sea
Crest Beach Hotel, included numerous professional
development workshops, with sessions on Friday
afternoon and Saturday morning. Workshop titles
ranged from “Introduction to iPads” and “Meeting
the Needs of the Whole Student” to “Beginning
Organizing: Getting out of Your Comfort Zone” and
“Creating and Sustaining a Democratic Classroom.”
The ESP Committee held giveaways for a
number of door prizes provided by MTA Benefits on
both days of the conference.
After the workshops had concluded on Saturday,
the crowd heard a luncheon keynote speech by Floyd
Cox, a master trainer for the National Education
Association’s Center for Organizing.
Cox, an engaging Oklahoman who had earlier
presented a workshop called “True Colors: A
Personality Assessment,” studded his speech with
anecdotes of why ESP doesn’t just stand for education
Cox chronicled the ESPs who have enhanced
his life, including Georgia Miller, a cafeteria worker
full of warmth and personality and a “wonderful
dessert chef” who later became his stepmother; Ruby
Russell, a library worker who “helped me and others
along the way” when he was an undergraduate at
Northeastern State University; and Kevin Steidley,
an “awesome” and hard-working custodian at
Chelsea High School when Cox was a new teacher
there and who still works at the school decades later.
“These are all my extra special people,” Cox said.
He continued, “Do you know an extra special
person? You ought to, because you are one. You are
the extra special people in the MTA.
“You live and work in communities that matter
because that’s where the kids are,” Cox reminded
his audience. “And because you are the fabric that
holds the school together,” he told the ESPs, “you
should continue to work together with our teacher
friends, our administrator friends and our university
friends” to bring about the communities of caring
that students deserve.
To see more photos from this year’s ESP
Conference, visit www.flickr.com/mtacommunications.
The 2015 MTA ESP Conference
opportunities for learning
and networking. Above, Julia
Monteiro Johnson, right,
assisted participants in her
“Introduction to iPads” session.
At left, first-time conference
participants Chenell Morris,
left, and Sarah Pelrin of
the Watertown Educators
Association enjoyed the
opening reception. The event
drew hundreds of ESPs to
the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in
Photos by Jean Conley