Education Support Professionals – the True MVPs in Bully Prevention

by Suzie Gannett (CEA-Retired member)

Recently, I had the honor to present to 400 Utah-ESP on Bully Prevention. These people truly are the eyes and ears of the school when it comes to bullying. Unfortunately, they are considered the Rodney Dangerfields of the school, “They Don’t Get No Respect”. It is clear from the 2010 NEA nationwide survey of education support professionals on bullying; we need to change this perception if we ever hope to win the war on bullying. Even though ESPs have played a crucial role in preventing school shootings, student suicides, and are on the front lines when it comes to witnessing bullying, they continue to play a minor role in whole school bully prevention. We need to change this NOW!

I believe we can accomplish this by:

First-Understand the Vital Role ESPs Play In Schools:

  • They deal with more bullying reports than other school staff, especially bus drivers
  • They primarily work in Prime Bullying Locations, that are mostly unstructured
  • They are usually first point of contact for students/parents, hence a valuable resource to extend home–school communication
  • Students tend to trust ESPs more and thus form better relationships with them
  • They are more likely than teachers to come from the same communities hence students tend to feel more connected to them
  • Students subjected to bullying reported feeling safer when paraprofessionals were nearby versus other school staff
  • ESPs primarily work with students that are more vulnerable to bullies ( LD; LGBTQ; Sped.)

Second-We Need to Address ESPs Specific Needs: 

  • Training materials that specifically address the different training needs and bullying-related experiences of ESPs
  • ESPs need additional training on Cyberbullying; LGBTQ students; Body Image Bullying
  • Need to be given more of a central role in prevention/intervention with bullying behaviors
  • ESPs need to be co-learners and co-leaders in an effective whole school bully prevention curriculum
  • ESPs perceived personal experiences with victimization- Their perceptions as lower status employees relative to teachers, because of their job position and salaries. Therefore, it may influence their willingness to intervene in bullying instances or prevention
  • ESPs Professional development trainings need to focus on school-wide prevention and intervention, instead of typical job specific trainings

Please join me in spreading the word on the ever increasing, valuable role ESPs play in our schools to keep all kids safe.

  • Share this blog with your colleagues
  • Make sure ESPs are actively involved in school wide programs & policies
  • Form a united school with administers, educators, ESPs and parents, working side-by-side
  • Get more information on NEA-Edcommunities Bully Prevention resources, Bully Free & ESP groups, and more at

Suzie GannettSuzie Gannett is a facilitator for the NEA- Bully Free Group on the NEA-Edcommunities website. She is a 32 year veteran educator from Fort Collins, with seven years in the classroom and 25 as a counselor. But it is her first-hand experiences with young people struggling with mental health issues that have prepared her the most to lead this group. From dealing with bullying issues as a teenager to seeing too many of her own students struggling with these same issues thru out the years, Suzie wants to ensure every young person’s voice is heard and never silenced.


  1. Bradshaw C, Figiel K. Prevention and intervention for workplace bullying in schools. National Education Association; Washington, DC: 2012
  2. Bradshaw CP, Waasdorp TE, O’Brennan L. NEA members’ knowledge and experience with bullying questionnaire. Survey instrument prepared for the National Education Association; Washington, DC.: 2010.
  3. Bradshaw CP, Waasdorp TE, O’Brennan L, Gulemetova M. Findings from the National Education Association’s nationwide study of bullying: Teachers’ and staff members’ perspectives on bullying and prevention. Report prepared for the National Education Association; Washington, DC.: 2011.

Jeffco labor leads community drive #‎BooksForAllStudents

The labor community in Jefferson County came together to transform the lives of Jeffco children and elevate the quality of their education. Promoting #BooksForAllStudents throughout the county and in social media, many local unions raised more than $15,000 to give students most in need a free book to take home for the summer. The money raised actually purchased $34,000 worth of materials through the national non-profit First Book, providing a brand new book to each third grader (more than 1,100 students) at all 23 Title 1 schools in the county.

Third grade is widely viewed as a tipping point for reading comprehension. Students who develop strong literacy skills by the end of third grade are generally in a better position to engage a wide variety of school subjects and enjoy success throughout their school careers.

JCEA members Tony Tochtrop, Kimberly Douglas and Mandy Hayes place stickers and bookmarks in donated books.

JCEA members Tony Tochtrop, Kimberly Douglas and Mandy Hayes place stickers and bookmarks in donated books.

The book drive also bought new books for the libraries at these schools. Tony Tochtrop was one of several teachers of the Jefferson County Education Association who volunteered to sort through about 4,000 new books at Union Hall of Sheet Metal Workers’ Local #9 in Lakewood, April 22. As the digital teacher/librarian in Lakewood’s Molholm Elementary, Tochtrop was very excited to see some of the books that would soon be coming to his school library.

“The kids love getting a brand new book,” said Tochtrop, who personally donated $50 to the cause. “I’m seeing a lot of great literature the kids are going to get excited about and look forward to reading.”

Members of the Jeffco Classified School Employees Association and leaders and staff from the Colorado Education Association also helped out with the book preparation in April. In each book, they placed a bookmark with friendly tips, printed in English and Spanish, that families could reference to better share in the reading experience with their children. They also fixed a sticker on the inside cover with a place for students to write in their names, showing that book now belonged to a student.

Mandy Hayes, a third grade dual-language teacher at Molholm, enjoyed getting the books ready for students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to own a book.

“When I was a little girl I had a vast collection of my own books and took a lot of joy in reading the same book over and over again, reading them to my baby brother,” said Hayes. “Having the ownership and knowing, ‘This book is mine and I want to take care of it and hold on to it,’ really helped me grow a love of reading.”

Like Tochtrop, Hayes was excited to look through the books that would be heading to her school. She found the selection encouraged authentic literature with relevant cultural themes. “A lot of these books are actually bilingual so the students can use their first language to help them with in their second language.”


Josh Downey (left) at the Lumberg Elementary book delivery, May 11

The delivery of the books to Jeffco schools followed in May. “Who likes to read?” Josh Downey asked to an enthusiastic response from a large group of third graders at Lumberg Elementary, May 11. Downey, the president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, led fellow union members to Lumberg to deliver the books kids received for their home libraries. State Rep. Jessie Danielson joined the event, which was covered by 9News.

“Thanks to teachers and paraprofessionals, thanks to nurses and and janitors, pipe fitters and plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers, people all across Jefferson County pitched in for these books,” Downey told the students. “On behalf of all the people who helped raise the money, we are so glad to be here today and provide books to all of you guys. It’s really critical that you love reading and keep reading, because as an adult, you’re going to read every single day.”

“I’m thrilled that we were able to put together enough funding to give a book to every third grader, because that supports our Board of Education goal to increase reading ability and proficiency in the third grade,” said Hayes. “Giving an opportunity for third graders themselves to have a book, hold it, and take it home is going to promote that goal.”

JCEA's Nate Golich passes out the books students get to take home

JCEA’s Nate Golich passes out the books students get to take home

Pueblo educators celebrate with community

Pueblo and Pueblo County Education Associations hosted a community event, bringing out nearly 400 supporters of public education to Pueblo Union Depot, Oct. 20. The second annual ‘We Are Education’ celebration featured live music, prizes and lots of famous Pueblo green chili – all free for the community from the members of the PEA and PCEA.

Pueblo8“I am proud of you – all of you who are a part of the community of education,” PCEA President Roxy Pignanelli told the crowd. “It is very important that we remember to remind people of what we do in this community, the economic force we represent, and our many success stories.”

“We are education, and we need to honor the work we do together and the many students we support in Pueblo,” added PEA President Suzanne Ethredge.

Pueblo5As many children decorated pumpkins and stood in line for face painting, the force of Pueblo’s educational leadership addressed the audience. Dr. Lesley DiMare, president of Colorado State University – Pueblo, said her former job as a junior high school teacher taught her the importance of supporting education at all levels.

“We don’t separate K-12 from the university – it’s K-20. We collaborate together and we concur enrollment, senior to sophomore,” said DiMare. “The University and Pueblo Community College work beautifully together. Our primary concern is that we work with all of the schools within Pueblo and see our children move on to become educated and give back to the wonderful community that has supported them for so many years.”

PCC President Patty Erjavec said nearly 150 kindergarteners recently visited her campus to start thinking about career choices, an example of the strong continuum of education in Pueblo.

Pueblo7“As you go through your educational career, we want you to know that there are many opportunities and many avenues of success,” said Erjavec. “We absolutely appreciate fact that every one of our learners is different and needs different resources and different opportunities. That’s why the continuum is so important.”

Dr. Maggie Lopez, superintendent of Pueblo City Schools (D60), called her schools “a district on the move” that celebrates educators.

“When children come to school, there are a variety of people who support them – from school secretaries to custodial staff to teachers to principals to the volunteers who come day in and day out – they love our kids. What we do is very, very important. In Pueblo City Schools, we have a lot to celebrate.”

Pueblo4“This event provides a great opportunity for us to celebrate ourselves, not as separate educational institutions, but rather one very strong family of education in a city that is building on the strength of our future – our kids,” Pueblo District 70 Superintendent Ed Smith said during his remarks.

“We appreciated the fact that you are standing with us, great collaborators and great leaders,” Pignanelli commented after the event speakers. “We can’t do this unless we do it together.”Pueblo12

School year-end profile: Ann Benninghoff gives students focus through martial arts

The Colorado Education Association celebrates the hard work and dedication of all teachers and education support professionals at the end of the 2012-13 school year with a visit to Dutch Creek Elementary School in Littleton, where paraprofessional Ann Benninghoff volunteers her time before school to give her students a great start to the learning day.

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

“Dahn Mu Do is the art of limitless energy,” explains Ann after a 45-minute session with students before school on a Friday morning. Ann, a paraprofessional of more then 30 years at Dutch Creek, says a personal interest in yoga led her to the energy-based, non-combative martial art from Korea. “It is non-contact martial arts where you use energy to focus and concentrate.”

Ann started leading students in the stretching and breathing exercises of yoga last school year after noticing many kids were showing up to school early with nothing to do. “I saw there were a lot of kids hanging around before school, and so I thought yoga would be a good thing to bring in.”

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Ann soon enlisted the help of Jim Caudill, the instructor of her adult class, to teach children the Dahn Mu Do movements made with wooden swords. Jim had never worked with kids before, but he needed to do an outreach project as part of his second-degree black belt program. Ann suggested he come help her at the school.

“Jim said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it a couple of times.’ Well, he’s been here ever since. He loves the kids and he’s very good with the kids,” Ann said.

Ann and Jim run the class three mornings each week, and have seen it grow from a handful of students to a group of 20. Victoria Rodriguez attends the class with her older brother Joaquin.

Joaquin and Rodriguez

Joaquin and Victoria Rodriguez

“It’s a place that helps you calm down in school and have a little bit of fun,” Victoria said. “It helps me calm down in school when something is really hard.”

“You come here to relax,” said Joaquin. “All the things we do are kind of like brain teasers that wake my brain up and get me ready for the day.”

The power of martial arts and yoga to relax and focus students before the start of the school day is helping them to succeed in classroom studies, according to classmates Garin Brown and Alysha Price.

“I think it really helps me get my work done,” said Garin. “It relaxes our brains in the morning so we can have a fresh start in the day, a better start.”

Garin Brown

Garin Brown

“I have a hard time remembering things,” Alysha admitted, but credits Dahn Mu Do exercises in the morning with helping her concentrate later in the day. “Remembering all my forms really helps me to think in school, because I have to think of this really early in the morning.”

“If you get really good at memorizing the things in here, it gets easier for you to memorize other things,” Garin added.

Ann said teachers of her Dahn Mu Do students tell her about the positive changes they see in the classroom.

“When the kids come to class, they’re more ready to settle down, they’re more ready to get to work, they’re more focused,” said Ann. “Some of our kids in special reading groups have seen a marked increase in achievement. Some of them have achieved to the point of being able to get out of the special reading class.”

Math scores are up as well.

“It helps with their reasoning abilities,” said Ann. “They learn certain steps and certain sequences of [Dahn Mu Do], it just goes over into math and the sequencing of math steps.”

Alysha Price

Alysha Price

And while the martial arts and yoga routines are enhancing the students’ abilities in the academic world, they also have a bit of fun doing them.

“We’re hurrying to do this, and we’re hurrying to do this, and Dahn Mu Do gives them a little bit of a breather where they can just have some fun in an academic situation, and get settled down to do the academic,” Ann said.

When asked about his favorite part of Dahn Mu Do, Garin said, “I like the swords part, and I like to do it really fast because it feels fun.”

It’s also fun to tell other kids you get to use a sword in school.

“People kind of look at me like I’m crazy when I say that,” said Alysha.

Dahn Mu Do3Ann thanked parents for supporting the program by getting their kids to school early, noting some parents are already looking to sign their kids up for a summer martial arts program. See video of Ann Benninghoff’s Dahn Mu Do class at Dutch Creek Elementary on CEA’s YouTube channel.

NEA ESP of the Year, a fellow Coloradan, inspires educators nationwide

Judy Near, CEA-NEA member in Canon City ESPA, is representing Association members as the NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year. Near earned the honor last March and was recognized this week at the NEA annual meeting in Washington, DC.

In Near’s speech to nearly 9,000 fellow educators at the meeting, she urged them to take control of their profession by leading, telling them, “To lead, you just need a vision, hope, and the inner strength to believe you can change things.”

Near encouraged the annual meeting delegates to empower themselves and live each day with courage because courage helps protect students and their communities. “We care deeply for our students and their success, and we work to keep our students and schools safe,” said Near, a health technician and attendance clerk at Skyline Elementary School.

America’s nearly three million ESP are 43 percent of the public school workforce. They comprise nine staff services groups in both PreK-12 and higher education: custodial and maintenance; secretarial and clerical; transportation; food service; health; paraeducators (classroom assistants); security services; technical services; and skilled trades.

Job categories aside, we think of ESP members as the foundation of our schools and colleges, the people who work hard every day to keep schools healthy, clean, and safe and who work side-by-side with teachers and principals to help students achieve in school. Near knows from her work in Canon City schools over the last 27 years that ESP members get tremendous personal fulfillment from working with students and serving their school community.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel agrees, “Education support professionals are invaluable members of a school community, often the strongest bridges from classroom and campus to community. Their relationships with students are not limited to one school year; as students move from grade to grade, they remain part of their educational experience. ESP members’ commitment to helping students succeed is the hallmark of Association leadership and Judy Near is a wonderful example.”

We think Judy Near is a wonderful example too, and we are very proud of her ESP of the Year Award and her accomplishments as an educator.

Learn more about the demographics of Association ESP members and watch Judy Near’s speech at the NEA Annual Meeting on CEA’s home page.