MTA ESP receives national honor
Paraeducator Saul Ramos calls announcement ‘the moment of my life’
By Jean Conley
I t wasn’t until Saul Ramos heard the word “Braille” that he realized he was being named the National Education Association’s Education
Support Professional of the Year.
On March 11, the Burncoat High School
paraeducator and member of the Educational
Association of Worcester — who taught himself
Braille to better help his students become
independent — was in Dallas with a number of his
MTA colleagues, attending a banquet that was a
highlight of the 2017 national ESP Conference.
Ramos had been nominated for the NEA award
after being chosen as MTA’s ESP of the Year for
2016 — but he didn’t actually expect to win.
“I saw who else was nominated — really good
people from three dozen states — and I had met
some of them before and heard about the incredible
things they had done,” Ramos said. “Honestly, to be
among these people, I was just happy for whoever
But he did win, and he found himself up on
stage in front of 900 cheering fellow ESPs accepting
a trophy, a bouquet of roses and a $10,000 check
from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
“I can’t even think about it because even now I
get teary-eyed,” Ramos said. “Some would call this
a moment in time,” he added. “But I would say this
was the moment of my life.”
Eskelsen García praised Ramos’ “commitment
to helping students succeed in the classroom, in
school and in the community.” She added that Ramos
“is a shining example of ESPs who work tirelessly to
make great public schools for every student.”
MTA President Barbara Madeloni nominated
Ramos for the award.
“I admire Saul and am inspired by his dedication
and thoughtfulness,” she said. “He is looked up to as
an educational leader for his commitment to his field,
as well as his expertise. He is in fact the symbol of
just how essential ESPs are to meeting the needs of
the whole student.”
B ringing home the NEA’s highest ESP award was the last thing on Ramos’ mind when he first walked into a classroom as an educator
more than 18 years ago.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I
would be recognized for the work I am so passionate
about,” Ramos wrote in his application to the NEA
ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “Having that
first encounter with my first student, and seeing how
much of a difference I made in his life, made me
Ramos’ first assignment was to work with
a legally blind kindergarten student who needed
As the student learned Braille, Ramos spent
hours after school conducting online searches and
studying materials from Vision Teachers and the
local library so that he could learn Braille himself.
Not only did that help Ramos help his student
with lessons, but he developed ways to bring Braille
into the classroom as a whole, sparking interest
among the other students and giving them an
introduction to how visually impaired students learn.
Ramos worked with his first student from 1999
until the student graduated from Worcester Technical
High School in 2011. That experience fueled his
commitment to all special education students.
Keefe Bangert, a teacher of visually impaired
students who works throughout the school district,
has gotten to know Ramos well over the years they
have worked together.
“Visually impaired students need to be helped,
but they also need to become self-determined and
self-reliant,” Bangert said. Knowing when to be
helpful and when to back away in order to foster
independence, he added, “is a very difficult line for a
person to walk.”
Ramos has a good understanding about when
to remove himself from situations to make a student
more independent, Bangert said. “That’s something
you can’t train for,” he said. “That’s instinct and
Thien Nguyen, a visually impaired student who
now attends the University Park Campus School,
worked with Ramos from fourth grade through
Ramos said that learning English — Nguyen’s
family is from Vietnam — was another challenge for
his student. Born in San Germán, Puerto Rico, and
raised between there and Worcester, Ramos knows
what it feels like to try to fit into two cultures.
At first, Nguyen recalled, “I didn’t really want to
“But by seventh grade, Saul pushed me to learn
more and become independent,” he continued. “He
made me do my work.”
Now a sophomore, he is looking forward to
attending college, where he would like to study
During Ramos’ tenure as NEA ESP of the
Year, he will represent ESPs at national education
conferences, as well as at NEA events surrounding
National ESP Day in November and at the 2018 NEA
ESP convention. He will also give a speech before
about 8,000 delegates at the NEA Representative
Assembly in Boston this summer.
In between, he’ll travel around the country
to tell his story — both as an ESP and as a union
activist — and to advocate for all educators involved
in public education.
Ramos has a reputation for being extremely
successful with his students because of his natural
empathy, but he has firsthand experience with
poverty and loss.
“Never in my wildest dreams
did I think that I would be
recognized for the work I am
so passionate about,” Ramos
wrote in his application to the
NEA ESP of the Year Selection
Continued on next page
Photo courtesy of NEA
Saul Ramos spoke after being named the NEA’s 2017 ESP of the Year. With him on stage were
NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess R. Moss, left, and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.