‘We are essential to the lives of our students,’ award winner tells audience
By Jean Conley
B uilding relationships among educators, students, families and communities was a strong thread that ran through the 2016
MTA ESP Conference.
The idea is that by creating strong relationships,
educators will be at the center of decisions about the
future of Massachusetts public schools, colleges and
The conference, held April 8 and 9, drew
hundreds of education support professionals from
across Massachusetts to the Sea Crest Beach Resort
Activism was clearly on the minds of many
ESPs as they told their stories about how charter
school tuition is draining funds from their districts.
Many participants wore Save Our Public Schools
stickers throughout the conference. Workshops
addressing a wide range of interests — from using
technology to finding effective strategies to change
behavior in the classroom — drew large crowds.
Saul Ramos, a paraprofessional in the Worcester
Public Schools for the past 17 years, was named the
2016 ESP of the Year.
His first job as an ESP was serving as a one-to-one assistant to a kindergarten student who
was visually impaired. To give his student every
chance to succeed, Ramos learned Braille on his
own, which allowed him to transcribe lesson plans
and his student’s work. He worked with that same
student from 1999 until the student graduated from
Worcester Technical High School in 2011.
A s Ramos accepted the award on Friday evening, he expressed his gratitude to his mother, other family members and friends
who attended the dinner, and he touched on the many
relationships that have guided him personally and
“We are essential to the lives of our students,”
he told his fellow ESPs. “We change lives, and we
save lives. We do it for the love of it.”
Ramos stressed the need for educators to be
active at the local, state and national levels. “We
need to put our voices in the room and make sure
that we are listened to,” he said.
He noted the challenges that ESPs routinely
face, such as “a lack of professional development
opportunities and the lack of a living wage, requiring
many of us to work a second or third job to support
“Some of us even qualify for government
assistance,” he continued. “That should not be
MTA President Barbara Madeloni pointed to the
relationships that ESPs have built with their students,
parents and communities, and she urged participants
to have a say in the political decisions that affect
She reminded participants that relationships will
be crucial as the Save Our Public Schools coalition,
of which the MTA is a member, organizes to fight a
ballot question in November that would lift the cap
on Commonwealth charter schools.
Madeloni urged ESPs to “access the relationships
you have with your students, with parents and your
“You’re as close to students as anyone can be,”
she said. “Talk to people about why public education
matters. It is up to us to use our relationships to knit
together the fabric of a movement so that we can beat
back those who are looking to undermine and destroy
public education through this ballot initiative.”
MTA Vice President Janet Anderson recounted
a personal story that reflected the importance of the
ties that bind ESPs and their students.
When she was a relatively new teacher,
Anderson said, a paraprofessional in her Taunton
classroom was troubled that a child in the class had
come to school feeling ill for a few days.
Others, including the child’s mother, were
unaware just how sick the child really was. The
paraprofessional prevailed upon Anderson to insist
that the child be seen by a doctor. In the end, she
said, the paraprofessional may have been responsible
for saving the child’s life.
“How is it that others missed just how sick the
child was?” she asked.
“We may not all save a life,” she said, “but
everybody in this room impacts students every single
day. You make their immediate lives better. You
make their future lives better.”
A number of ESPs took time out between
workshops to talk on videotape about the damage
being done to their districts by Commonwealth
Donna Beeler, who works with special needs
students at Haverhill High School, said her district
loses close to $3 million a year to charters. She
would like to see that money spent to replace
decades-old textbooks and to fix school building
issues that can cause health problems for students.
“If we want education that’s up to date, we need
up-to-date funding,” she said.
Workshops at the MTA ESP Conference
covered a wide range of topics. Above,
educators participated in a session about
building effective teams. At left, ESP of
the Year Saul Ramos, a paraprofessional in
the Worcester Public Schools, stressed the
need for educators to be active at the local,
state and national levels. “We need to put
our voices in the room and make sure
that we are listened to,” Ramos said. The
conference, held at the Sea Crest Beach
Resort in Falmouth, drew a large crowd of
ESPs from across the state.
Photos by Jean Conley