The tireless fight of Ishpeming bus drivers to beat back recent privatization efforts was highlighted in the opening of the 2017 MEA ESP Conference – with an appropriate theme: “Make Every Connection Matter.”
ESP Caucus Board President Drew Campbell, a Waterford schools custodian, pointed out three of the Ishpeming bus drivers attending the conference to inspire others to work every angle and never give up, no matter how tough the battle.
“ESP are always at our best when things are at their worst,” he said in his opening remarks, which also featured an eye-opening video about the importance of Education Support Professionals, called “A Day Without ESP.”
Attendees at the two-day conference learned how to engage members; use Excel software; fight privatization; deal with bullying administrators; and represent members, fee payers, and non-members – among other topics in two dozen different sessions. New sessions this year dealt with effective pest control techniques.
Many of the sessions offered credits that could be applied toward Michigan ESP Center for Professional Learning (MECPL) certificates.
Lori Griffith, a para-educator in Ann Arbor schools, said she learned new techniques for engaging members – most importantly, making personal connections. Griffith said she’s become involved in the union recently and knows members will join, pay dues, or take action if asked.
“I’m looking for ways to make those connections and draw them in, because I want our unit to stay and I want it to be strong.”
Those strengthening connections are important, because two MEA staff lobbyists alone can’t turn the tide of anti-union, anti-public education initiatives in the state Legislature, said MEA President Steven B. Cook in his address during Friday night’s dinner.
“You are the MEA,” Cook said. “You’re the ones we ask to write letters; you’re the ones we ask to sit on PAC councils; you’re the ones we ask to meet with legislators. You’re MEA. It’s not me. It’s not our board. It’s you.”
That realization dawned on Anita Comar, who’s been driving a bus in Portage for three years after having been an elementary school teacher years ago. A difficult divorce five years ago pushed her into driving, but the love of her job has kept her there, she said.
Now she wants to help fight for the recognition and pay that support staff deserve for the important work they do, which is why she was attending her first MEA ESP conference, she said.
“I’m very inexperienced in the functions of MEA,” Comar said, “but I’m beginning to understand that if we get involved, each individual can have a positive effect on our own lives as well as the lives of the kids we serve.”