From providing child care to children of essential workers to supporting students, education support professionals have been a key piece to the success of distance learning.
“ESPs can still give support to their students and encourage them to learn with distance learning,” said Emilee Eastes, an ESP in Lakeville. “Sometimes the role may be to support students in a child care setting, and sometimes the role may be to help answer homework questions for students remotely.”
ESPs are the primary employee group staffing the essential worker child care programs in schools.
“Some of the tasks may be helping a student with questions on their assignments, cleaning the classrooms and anything that has been used by staff or students, planning some activities for the children when they are finished with their assignments, and also supervising a classroom, lunchtime and recess,” said Eastes.
ESPs are often the employees who are delivering meals, technology and paper materials to students.
In Aitkin, ESPs travel more than two hours a day on buses to deliver meals and packets to students.
“I have been delivering food and hotspots. Our work as educators looks very different now. We are willing to take on new challenges to educate our students and help families,” said Jason Vasquez, an EA at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary in St. Paul, during a press conference with legislators about the support needed for ESPs during this time.
ESPs are also working directly with students who may need additional assistance in their learning.
In this time, ESPs across the state are being leaned on by teachers to do even more student support than ever before.
Robbinsdale Education Assistant Annette Davis shared that she is working with her students with autism.
She said that ESPs are leading Google Meets with students and instructing some of those classes.
The pandemic has given more light to many of the inequities in support and respect given to ESPs.
Many ESPs are having to advocate so the proper safety and distance requirements are met when in school buildings.
For Davis, this pandemic has strengthened her motivation to fight for legislation that supports ESPs and gives them more respect in the workplace.
“ESPs are hourly workers who don’t get the respect they deserve during good times and are the first to lose pay as well as face layoffs during crises, and in Minnesota are often our educators of color,” she said. “Before this pandemic, ESPs were already experiencing inequities. It has only gotten worse”
“Being involved with the union is more important than ever because our voices are still being silenced. I want our district and lawmakers to show ESPs are valued. Give us a livable wage so we don’t have to work more than one job. Give us affordable health care.”