ESPs Use Conference to Gear Up for Year Ahead
October 11, 2021
October 11, 2021
A five-minute horror film was on the agenda at VEA’s 2021 Education Support Professionals Conference in Williamsburg in October, and it turned out to be a big crowd-pleaser. The movie short, called “A Day Without ESPs,” offered an extremely bleak scenario: Students stranded on a cold morning with no one to pick them up, a locked and filthy school building, and no nourishment to be had anywhere. Parents lost their tempers and the superintendent had to shut down the schools before the morning was out.
The film felt more like a documentary to Valerie Smith of the Arlington Education Association. “It told the truth,” she says with a laugh. “That’s the way it is—the schools can’t run without us.”
That sentiment was echoed by VEA President James J. Fedderman, who told conference attendees that he has a special soft spot in his heart for them and the work they do because he began his own education career as an elementary school custodian.
The annual ESP event, themed “Uniting Our Union Voice” this year, was a chance for ESPs not only to celebrate their often-overlooked roles, but to hone their professional skills to better serve students and colleagues, and to better equip themselves to further Union goals.
During the intensive two-day event, member- or staff-led sessions focused on the collective bargaining process, effective recruitment of fellow ESPs, the power of organizing, self-care, transgender awareness, and an election and legislative update. In addition, Fedderman, 2021 VEA ESP of the Year Brandi Wilder of Frederick County, and VEA Vice President Carol Bauer all spoke.
ESPs present, and some who attended virtually, came away better prepared to build unity among ESP members, to develop and use the power that comes with joining together, to communicate effectively with current and not-yet members, and to speak with one, strong voice.
Last year’s event was a victim of the COVID pandemic, so “It was great to be together and see both old and new faces,” says Javonnie Hill, also of the Arlington Education Association. “Especially now, with collective bargaining, it was a chance to communicate, see how everyone else is doing, get some excellent ideas to take back to our locals.”