Video – “ESP Organizing for Power” Training Program Takes Off in Portland, Oregon
Tag Alaska, Boise, California, Education Support Professional, esp organizing for power, Idaho, Las Vegas, Meridian, Nevada, Oregon, organizing, pacific region, Portland, Renton, Seattle, training, video, Washington
by Felix Perez
Education support professionals – who include paraeducators, clerical assistants, school bus drivers, food service workers, technicians, custodians, school nurses, and security professionals among their ranks — are accustomed to doing their jobs without much support and even less say.
But a one-of-a-kind leadership training effort that began September 22-24 in Portland, Oregon, is out to change that.
More than 100 rank and file ESPs from Alaska, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington gathered to gain a better understanding of the tools of empowerment, tools they can take back home to organize and advocate for a greater collective voice on behalf of students, on the job and in their communities.
The “ESP Organizing for Power” program is in the second year of a five-year pilot. Once the final class completes the demanding training (participants are required to commit to attend the three parts over five months, and canvassing days begin at 5:45 a.m., for example), there will be a network of more than 500-600 ESPs trained in the principles of organizing. The growing network communicates and shares ideas regularly through a group email list.
The next step in this year’s training program will be a hands-on field practicum in Boise and Meridian, Idaho. There, they will canvass door-to-door in teams of 3-4 persons from October 14-18 to help repeal three laws passed this spring that silence the voices of educators and erode students’ learning conditions.
Bruce Hellinga, a preschool special education assistant, has special interest in the door-to-door canvassing. Hellinga not only happens to live in Boise but he is a member of the inaugural class of the training program, spearheaded by NEA’s Pacific Region in partnership with the six NEA state affiliates in the region.
Hellinga, whose field practicum was in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a reluctant believer in the power of organizing at first. “I actually came into this [training] not – I’m not going to say wholeheartedly – but I had some reservations,” confessed Hellinga. “My opinion honestly changed because I realized we could make a difference. Our voices do count. I have a voice and my voice does count.”
Hellinga and more than 200 other education support staff from the Pacific region went to Las Vegas to do “door knocking,” reaching 2,200 homes in an effort to retain local ESP rights and benefits. The ESP organizer teams also visited 150 schools and bus yards.
Janie White, a middle school office manager in Renton, Washington, recounted how the training changed the way she defines leadership. “We look at leaders sometimes as presidents and secretaries, but we forget that if one person, if he’s just out there telling one person sitting next to him about the importance of the union, that’s a leader all by itself.”
The third and final phase of the current training will take place in Seattle, Washington, over four days in January. Participants will share observations from their field experience and develop their own back-home organizing plan on a subject of their choosing for their local ESP education association.
Asked to describe why the program works, Hellinga put it this way: “It’s that pay-forward mentality that, you know, ‘I’ll do it for you. Now it’s your turn to do it for the next person.’ ”
To read more about the ESP organizing efforts in Clarke County, Nevada, click here.
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