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Something to Teach

Education support professionals school students in life skills and other lessons.

By John Rosales

Lorraine Synder doesn’t look like a banker or business instructor. She doesn’t wear pinstripe suits with shiny shoes or sport a corporate name badge. But she and her student tellers at Great Mills High School in Maryland operate a school bank where they interact with hundreds of customers (mostly students and school staff), making change for $20, accepting $7 payments from students going on a field trip, or managing a $10,000 deposit after a school dance. It’s a million-dollar business, Synder says.



School bank manager Lorraine Synder (center) reviews the day's receipts with bank tellers Jason Henderson (right) and Chantel Campbell

Photo by Earl Dotter 

Synder, a high school financial assistant, participates in a landmark program at Great Mills in which education support professionals (ESPs) serve as mentors to students, teaching them on-the-job and life skills. 

“I try to teach them work values,” Synder says.

ESPs in student health, food service, maintenance, and other departments work one-on-one with students, who earn academic or community service credit toward graduation. The students working at the bank, for example, earn academic credit based on a written evaluation by Synder, who tracks their attendance and performance. She works in conjunction with a teacher who assigns them a grade.

Synder and her ESP colleagues take on the role of mentors not for the money (they receive no extra compensation for participating) but “for the students.”

“My job is not about buffing floors,” says Robert Armstrong, building services manager. “It’s about relationships and helping these kids succeed in school and in life.”

It’s a philosophy embodied by secretaries, safety monitors, paraeducators, and other support professionals at Great Mills and across the country who transcend their job descriptions, their skills, even their schools.

Banking on Student Growth

As her daily job, Synder runs the bank and is responsible for school activity funds, involving more than 100 internal financial accounts. Situated next to the cafeteria, her offices are set up like a standard bank, with a long counter, a safe, and extensive financial records, which are maintained by students.
“Working with students is a bonus,” she says. “I enjoy helping them learn new skills and seeing their self-confidence grow.”

Jason Henderson, a senior at Great Mills, says his banking experience has come in handy in his personal life.

“It’s helped me out a lot with my own finances,” he says. “She’s [Synder] one of the nicest people in school,” he adds. “She teaches us life skills.”

Another thing about Synder: most bankers don’t call their customers “hon” or bake cup cakes to commemorate the birthdays of tellers. She does. And that’s for 15 tellers.

Grandma Etrata Takes Care of 1,800 Kids

The students never stop trickling into the nursing station where nurse Nancy Etrata is ready to treat, counsel, and maybe just talk.

“As much as I love nursing, I hope the students know I care about their health as well as their performance in the classroom,” says Etrata, a licensed practical nurse who has worked full-time at the school for nine years. “I want them to graduate.”


Nurse Nancy Etrata demonstrates a medical technique on student
aide Aida Trice.

Photo by Earl Dotter

In her cramped office, Etrata has the type of memento that many ESPs possess: a large peg board packed with photos of present and former students.

“One called me Saturday night,” says Etrata. “Her sister was having a baby.”

Twelfth-grader Aida Trice is a student aide in the nurse station where she works for an hour a day Monday through Friday. Inspired by Etrata, she wants to go into the medical field after college.

“She’s more than just a nurse,” Trice says of Etrata. “Everyone comes to visit her. She’s like a grandma, someone you want to tell stories to.”

Trice says Etrata shares her medical dictionary with her, as well as teaches her how to treat bloody noses, scraped knees, cramping, and other everyday student emergencies.

“She teaches me a lot about the job,” Trice says.

Etrata says she would not want to work anywhere but a school.

“They’ll ask me about personal business, like if they’re pregnant,” Etrata says. “I listen and help where I can . . . but I always advise them to talk with their parents.”

Be on Time! And Mind Your Manners!


Robert Armstrong stresses leadership and
workplace values to students who help maintain school grounds.

Photo by Earl Dotter

Students who work for Robert Armstrong in the school maintenance department must put in a certain number of service learning hours to graduate. The students do routine work such as recycle trash and polish floors and windows. And they always get more than they bargained for from Armstrong, a 20-year veteran.

“I explain the importance of showing up on time, communicating with people, and doing your duties to the best of your ability,” he says.

Above all, Armstrong wants to help his 10-15 students per semester to be responsible citizens. Teaching students about a work ethic is not in his job description, but Armstrong shares a commitment to students with Synder, Etrata, and other ESPs at Great Mills—namely, he cares.

“I’m always proud to see them get that diploma,” he says with a big smile. One student from the Class of 2006 sent Armstrong a framed copy of his diploma and a photo, which rests permanently next to Armstrong’s computer.

“It’s one of my prized possessions,” he says. “I tell kids, ‘You see—here’s one I helped.’”

It’s a dedication that doesn’t go unnoticed—at least by the students.

“[ESPs] have something special,” says Trice, 17. “They’re always happy and willing to help you.”



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Through the eyes of Sofi, a middle school student, see how Education Support Professionals (ESP) make a difference in the lives of their students, both in and out of the classroom in the video animation, Education Support Professionals: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student.  
  • anc_dyn_linksKey Facts About NEA's ESP Members
  • anc_dyn_linksEducation Support Professional Careers
  • anc_dyn_linksThe ESP Quality Department
  • anc_dyn_linksESP Members of the NEA Board
  • anc_dyn_linksThe ESP E-mail List