Mike Poke is a custodian in the Wayzata Schools in Minnesota. He is a member and elected officer on the Executive Board of SEIU Local 284, a union of almost 9,000 school staff across Minnesota. Mike began as what he calls a “regular custodian,” working the overnight shift to make sure the school was ready for students in the morning. But that changed about eight years ago when he was moved to the day shift and began having the chance to interact with students in the school. He got to know the kids, especially those he saw struggling, and became a mentor to many of them. Students and parents called him when things were bad to see if I could help get things back on track. Mike didn’t have someone to keep him motivated when he was a young student, so now he works (above and beyond his job duties) to be that support system for students who need a helping hand.
Paul Rasso, an office equipment technician in Colton schools and member of Colton Chapter 244, will be honored in Washington D.C. as one of the 2017 Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award winners. “I’m so pleased to be receiving the RISE Award,” Rasso said. “Receiving this is such an amazing honor. Not just for me but for the people and organizations who supported me throughout the years. It makes me proud to be an inspiration to others.”
For nearly 20 years, Rasso has been providing excellent service to the staff and students at Colton Unified. He is responsible for maintaining the district copiers, delivering parts and assisting their pupil personnel services department. A longtime activist with his chapter and leader in his community, Rasso is known for going the extra mile to help others. “Paul Rasso is known throughout CSEA for his dedication to our union and devotion to his community,” said Association President Ben Valdepeña. “His selflessness is an inspiration to students, co-workers and all of our union. We all should be so lucky to know somebody like Paul.”
Rasso was raised in a union home. His father was a member of the laborers’ union for 44 years. Born with a heart defect, Rasso said as a small child he needed blood donors to provide life-saving transfusions. His father’s union brothers and sisters spread the word, and the donors lined up to help. “So I feel that I have union blood in me,” he said. “And here I am, nearly 40 years later, giving back.” Rasso’s community work ranges from working with the Parks and recreation department to fund and build a skate park, to finding homes and job mentors for “aged-out” foster care kids.
My career as a paraeducator in special education has evolved over thirty-three years. During this time, my roles have been to work one-to-one with a student, small groups, mainstream classrooms and student support rooms. I recognize that each student is a unique and individual learner.
The support I give them can significantly influence their day and the peers they interact with. My years of service have helped me to develop character as a team player in the classroom. My dedication and consistent efforts helps the students achieve independence and have expanded opportunities.
I’m a strong proponent of continuous improvement and it’s my belief that high expectations are critical to our achievements in the school districts as paraeducators.
I model high regard for family, education, union, church and community in my activities and the energy I put into them. I model respect and honesty in my relationships. A quote that works for me by John Maxwell, leadership teacher, author of the 360-degree leader. “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so that you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”
Saul Ramos is a one-to-one paraeducator in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a self-taught braillist and currently is on staff at Burncoat High School, where he transcribes school materials and classwork for visually impaired students, into print or braille. Ramos ensures that his students are fully integrated into their school environment and works to help them become as independent as possible.
“I know that with a lot of patience, understanding, and guidance, my students are capable of accomplishing anything any other student can,” says Ramos.
An advocate for English Language Learners and special education students, as well as the visually impaired, Ramos was named the 2017 National Education Association (NEA) ESP of the Year during an awards banquet at the NEA Education Support Professionals Conference in Dallas, Texas. The annual award is NEA’s highest recognition for ESP.
“NEA applauds Saul and his commitment to helping students succeed in the classroom, in school and in the community,” said NEA President, Lily Eskelsen García. “He is a shining example of the ESP who work tirelessly to make great public schools for every student.”
Ramos has created awareness of Latino culture by founding the nonprofit Arte Latino of New England where he serves as artistic director. He is also co-executive director of the Providence Latin American Film Festival in Rhode Island. The newly elected mayor of Providence recently appointed Ramos to the transition team for education, arts, and culture.
“Art is one of the greatest ways that humans can express their whole spirit,” Ramos says. “I hope that all educators will remember that among their students, they may have a budding artist that should be challenged and motivated to explore their craft.”
Ramos is also the first ESP to be inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame and was also honored last year at Fenway Park during a professional baseball game as an MTA Red Sox Most Valuable Educator.
Jamie Manchester has served the communities of Sprague, Lamont, and Davenport, Washington for more than 10 years as a Library Technician and Technology Coordinator.
During that time, Jamie has been a strong advocate for technology in the classroom, creating her school’s first elementary computer lab, and implementing 1:1 Chromebooks for K-12. She has written grants that have helped introduce STEM-based curriculum and new technology to enrich her students’ experience in school and their lives beyond the classroom. Jamie also serves as the Vice President of the Creston Alumni Association, helping award over $240,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors in the community.
She has been a member of the Public School Employees of Washington SEIU Local 1948 since 2006 and has held several positions in service to the membership. Jamie has served on the Education and Training Committee, as Chapter Vice President and Chapter Secretary, and as an Annual Convention Delegate. She has helped organize new bargaining units, assisted with campaigns to visit local representatives, and spoken on the issues facing classified school employees locally and across the nation.