prevent the spread of coronavirus. young hispanic bus driver wearing a protective mask and looks at road.

young hispanic man bus driver in a protective mask and black gloves. prevent the spread of coronavirus. young hispanic bus driver wearing a protective mask and looks at road. quarantine. covid 19.

SEATTLE -- This is American Education Week, and the celebration Wednesday focuses on education support professionals (ESPs).

The work of ESPs in schools includes clerical support, maintenance, security and paraeducators. They work in the K-12 system as well as higher education.

Janie White, vice president of the Washington Education Association and a former ESP, said ESPs have been critical during the pandemic, even when schools shut down.

"Our ESPs are the first responders, so they never left the building," White recounted. "They have been there to make sure that our students have hot meals, our families have hot meals. And transportation worked with nutrition services to deliver the food."

White pointed out transportation workers also delivered the technology students needed to work remotely and custodians ensured buildings stayed clean throughout the pandemic. She encouraged folks to show their appreciation for ESPs Wednesday.

She also wanted to ensure ESPs are supported by districts, noting they are often the first staff members to be cut when schools tighten their belts.

"We have to make sure that the funding that the state brings forward to our schools and our districts; that we have compensation for our ESPs because the majority of our ESPs are the lowest-paid employees in the district," White stated.

White added teachers and ESPs are a team working for students.

"We work together to make our kids get the full tools they need to be equipped for the work that they do," White emphasized. "Fully equipped human beings. That's our goal."

Other celebrations for American Education Week include Family Day Tuesday and Substitute Educators Day Friday.