When the kindergarten students Tequila Laramee was working with couldn’t quite remember their letter sounds, she came up with a song on the spot. The kids not only sang it that day, but the day after that and the day after that.
That love for her students and helping them learn is a big reason why Laramee was named Education Minnesota’s 2021-22 Education Support Professional of the Year.
As an associate educator at Bethune Community School in Minneapolis, Laramee assists the licensed teacher in the classroom with small literacy and math groups, behavioral support, and social and emotional support for students.
For Laramee, working in schools has also always been about building a welcoming and inclusive classroom community.
“I always wanted to be a teacher so I could be an adult in the school who looks like my students, who reads to them and helps them,” said Laramee.
Laramee was the first person in her family to attend college, and has had to put her education on hold right now, but hopes to finish her degree and work as a teacher or counselor in Minneapolis Public Schools.
“I want to show and educate students in poverty that they have choices,” she said in her submission essay for the ESP of the Year award. “I want to introduce them to careers they maybe haven’t thought of and I want them to know they do not have to become stereotypes or a product of their environment.”
Laramee makes an impact on students’ lives in her current role in big ways.
“Tequila is an excellent educator and has a firm grasp of what students need,” said Kari Ehlers, the kindergarten teacher at Bethune who works with Laramee, in her award recommendation letter. “From arrival to dismissal, she is engaged with students, supporting them, encouraging them, and redirecting them as needed. She is able to connect with our students in such a caring and loving way that all the children feel safe and secure in her presence. Tequila also has made many impactful relationships with families, reaching out regarding students, providing support, and helping families feel our Bethune love.”
Laramee has worked in many different roles in Minneapolis Public Schools, including the before- and after-school program, which she continues to do.
“I work with students even more than the licensed teachers,” she said. “We do lunch duty, recess and more.”
“My children love her. They talk about her every day at home and love going to school to work with her,” said LaQuanda Jarrett, a parent at Bethune in her award recommendation letter. “She helps my children see the value in themselves, she makes sure they see themselves in the classroom environment and she makes sure they feel included. She is always proactive and helpful whenever I ask for help or have a concern.”
Laramee says that making sure ESPs are a valued part of their school community will be an issue she hopes to highlight with her new title.
“Just because we don’t have a license, doesn’t mean we aren’t qualified to be an important part of the classroom,” she said. “There are so many things ESPs can do.”
“When so many have not felt seen or heard in the educational system, Ms. Tequila fights against that narrative,” said Greta Callahan, president of teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, who nominated Laramee for this award and previously worked with her at Bethune. “She invites our parents in to read to the class, come on field trips and be a presence in our school. At conferences, she is always there, and our families rave about what a blessing she is to their children.”
The mindset of supporting ESPs is also what has gotten Laramee into union advocacy work.
Laramee has organized with the MFT in the summers, engaging with members, signing them up to be members of the union and inviting them to be an active member.
“I feel confined to my building, so organizing gives me a chance to meet, listen and connect with members,” she said. “One conversation led to a licensed teacher eager to get more involved, ready to support ESPs and interested in becoming a board member.”
Through that work, Laramee was nominated and elected to the MFT ESP Executive Board.
“Holding an at-large position, I contribute to being a voice for ESPs that cannot be at meetings, rallies and in other ways,” she said. “I listen to their concerns and be that ESP-to-union bridge to help resolve their concerns. I work hard every day to show students, staff, administrators and families how much value ESPs are to our schools.”
Laramee’s dedication to her union work matches her dedication to her students and that was recognized by others within MFT.
“After observing how fair and pragmatic she has been on the board, I nominated her for our Joint Treasurer position. She won with over 90 percent of the vote,” said Callahan. “This accomplishment stands out for multiple reasons- this was a joint chapter vote; not only do ESPs support Ms. Tequila, but our licensed chapter does as well. Also, she made history. Ms. Tequila is the first ESP to ever serve in our Joint Treasurer role. I am so proud to have this amazing role model and leader as a colleague.”
In her new role this year, representing ESPs throughout Minnesota, with this award, Laramee hopes to inspire others to stand up and speak out.
“I stand up and speak for what I believe in, for what ESPs deserve and for our students. I show up, work hard and do my best at whatever it is I am doing,” she said. “I find many ESPs are so busy and don’t have the time to be involved. I believe it is so important to be involved, because we’re not just fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for the safety and education of our students. They are our future.”