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ESPs like Aimee Bishop are the glue that hold everything together


In her roles at the Island County Juvenile Detention Center and Coupeville Open Academy, an Open Doors Program, Aimee Bishop is the glue that holds everything together, ensuring things are running smoothly and paving a pathway for students to succeed. She serves as the registrar, secretary and transition specialist at the detention center and the registrar, secretary and case manager at Open Academy. Bishop exemplifies the essential work ESPs do to ensure students can be successful.

Bishop lights up as she discusses the work she does every day to help students be confident and equipped to move through school and life. "Just today I sent a check to get a birth certificate for a student who changed their name," she explains. "I help students get drivers licenses and work with the Opportunity Council and the Housing Alliance to help them find low-income housing."

These are the barriers Bishop helps to break down especially when working for students at the detention center. She works alongside students' home schools to gather their missing work and manage their schedules. "I keep students on track to go back to school seamlessly," she says. It is this behind-the-scenes work that keeps students moving forward and demonstrates how critical ESPs are to every aspect of a student's educational experience.

Bishop is humbled and honored to be named this year's WEA Education Support Professional of the Year.

''Awards like this are important to help the community understand what ESPs do and who they are, the difference they make, and how important their roles are in supporting students," she explains. She also highlights the important perspectives ESPs bring to conversations with education leaders and how critical their voices are to the conversation.

Bishop has perspectives related to her work experience that she believes legislators should be aware of when considering the supports students need. "I have experience with teen parents, students who are suspended from school, and also those who have severe anxiety and can't go to a traditional high school and need an alternative learning environment."

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Coupeville's Aimee Bishop wears many hats in her positions serving students on Whidbey Island. "I work to figure out what the barriers are for students and help them to overcome those barriers."

Open Door programs, which are designed and intended to serve older students, ages 16-21, who are severely credit deficient and who have left traditional and/or alternative school settings, face many challenges and Bishop hopes to meet with decisionmakers to tell them about these struggles. Currently, the 10 sites that hold Open Doors during the summer are pilots. Coupeville Open Academy is one. Usually, Open Doors is a 10-month program. Legislation is being considered to expand these year-round programs beyond the pilot sites. Bishop believes this change should happen because she has seen the positive impact year-round Open Academy has had on so many students. "Our program operates using barrier reduction money," she says. "We have to beg and plead for this money when it should be guaranteed. Decisionmakers have the power to make that happen."

"I want students to believe in education and their future and that education can work for them despite failures," she says. Both programs Bishop works in make a difference in how students view their education and view themselves.

Even when talking about receiving the award, Bishop focuses on how it has impacted her students, discussing how the nomination and subsequent selection impacted one of them. "Writing and then reading the letter [ she wrote on my behalf] aloud was really powerful for her," she says. "She's had so many barriers and for her to do that and speak, it was really empowering."

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Colleagues say Bishop brings kindness and personal attention to each and every student she encounters.

For her fellow ESPs, Bishop hopes to use her platform to highlight their work and the need for targeted training and job security. "ESPs need more training and support to do their jobs more effectively," she says. Bishop also says there needs to be more funding allocated for ESPs to ensure schools are staffed with enough ESPs to properly support students.

Bishop also has a message for her ESP colleagues across the state.

"Fill your own cup," she says. "There is a lot expected of us and we must take care of ourselves and maintain a good work-life balance. Our students are counting on us."

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