A platform to share the experiences of all ESPs
Congratulations to Renton's Aneeka Ferrell, 2023 WEA Education Support Professional of the Year
2023 Washington Education Association Education Support Professional of the Year Aneeka Ferrell hopes to use her platform to share the experiences of ESPs. "I'm speaking for all ESPs," she said. “I hope to spread the word of ESPs, what we need, what we deserve and how we should be treated as equals.”
“Disparities exist,” she explained. At the 2023 WEA Representative Assembly, Ferrell shared that according to the National Education Association, on average ESPs earn $10,000 below a basic living wage in all but one state across the country, including Washington state. As the Recruitment Coordinator for Renton School District, Ferrell recognizes that her position is one that is compensated more equitably. She feels that should be the case for all ESPs. "We shouldn't have to fight to get to the same level as other individuals," she said. "We shouldn't have to work harder to have an outcome that is equitable. We should be able to show up exactly as we are and be appreciated.”
Despite earning less than equitable wages, ESPs continue to show up and provide hope for students with empathy, care and love. This is why, she said, "we demand fair and equitable wages and to be able to live without working two, three, four or five
jobs. We demand to be treated like any other professional in education because we are educators."
According to Ferrell, in addition to equitable pay, education and mentoring are critical for elevating ESPs. Ferrell is currently a cadre member in WEA's NAKIA Academy, a coaching and mentoring program designed for educators of color. She called on decisionmakers to "provide ESPs with the professional development we deserve." She also asked for affinity spaces, in which ESPs can safely discuss the issues they face and provide one another with tools and knowledge through coaching and mentoring.
As for the award, Ferrell shared that it has been a humbling and amazing experience. Receiving this award has shown Ferrell
that her work as an ESP and as Vice President of the Renton Professional Technical Association is appreciated. "The work that I am doing as an educator in Washington state, on behalf of ESPs across the state is making a difference. People have recognized the passion that I have as an ESP, as an advocate, and in being intentional and authentic in the relationships that
I've built," she said.
Ferrell hopes her advocacy has an impact on the overall success of all ESPs and that she can be a role model for students.
As an educator of color and as a Black woman especially, Ferrell said that being selected as the WEA ESP of the Year shows students they can achieve. "Our most marginalized students, our students of color don't always see themselves reflected in their education" she said.
In her community, 78% of educators are white women, while over 80% of students are students of color. "It's hard to see ourself in spaces you are not," she explained. This is why her message to students is to show up and to be unapologetically
themselves. "Don't let anyone change you," she said. "You are individuals and each individual comes with diverse experiences
and backgrounds, and you should be appreciated and supported as you are, not challenged or changed."
ESPs are instrumental in supporting students to fully be themselves. But to be fully present for students, ESPs must be treated as professionals, Ferrell explained. She called on her fellow ESPs to continue to strive to do their best and to work together to make change.
"We're going to grow together and build together," Ferrell said. It is only together that ESPs can achieve, she explained. "If we continue to collectively work in the ways that we are, be who we need to be, and use our voices to challenge and infiltrate systems, we can make change."
Ferrell's message is clear. "We as ESPs will continue to advocate and push for legislation to be treated as equals, because that is what we deserve and are entitled to. We are educators, too."
Related: Watch Aneeka Ferrell on the job.