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www.gae.org | 13 always felt the need to be in the school system to do her part in helping the next generation become productive members of society. Dr. Butler remembers being called into a meeting on a Friday only to be told that her job, along with those of several other ESPs, was to be terminated. Despite the tremendous blow to her own livelihood, Butler chose not to react as to not alarm the many students who had become accustomed to her being there as an integral part of their learning process. The following Monday, Butler was the only ESP from that group to be called back to duty. Now, seeing her students learn and develop serves as a daily inspiration for her. Peggy Smith-Mitchell, who also serves as the local association President in Henry County, shares a similar experience as Lois Butler with regards to how she started in being a paraprofessional. “I have always had a desire to give back to my community,” she says. Moreover, she wanted to be close to her children once they reached school age. Smith- Mitchell fell in love working with the students and continued as a paraprofessional long after her own children no longer needed her to be close by. Despite the paraprofessional role becoming increasingly more complex and expanding to include more duties for students with disabilities, Smith-Mitchell says she loves her job all the more. “I love working one-on-one with students. I’m able to build strong bonds with students because of how closely I get to work with them,” she says. But being so entangled in the day-to-day aspects of a student’s learning isn’t without its set of challenges. “There are some days when I am surprised that I kept my sanity, but they are far outnumbered by the rewards of watching the children smile because they were able to accomplish a task.” A little over sixteen years ago, Angela Tucker- Holmes came to work in the school system after having a career in customer service and food management. Being a single mother at the time, Tucker-Holmes wanted to maximize the time she was able to spend with her child. “I started off in food service for about five years and then transferred over to custodial,” Tucker-Holmes recalls. Within less than two years, she was promoted to head custodian. Tucker-Holmes now leads the custodial services at a school for special needs children. With regards to working at her current school, she says, “You have to be a special person to work with children with disabilities because you see a lot, you’re dealing with a lot, and the kids can at times be challenging.” Nevertheless, Tucker-Holmes has managed to build a unique bond with the students at her school. A few well-behaved students get to help out with trash duties. It all started as a result of some students wanting to help Tucker-Holmes keep their school clean. Now, the coveted “helper” job has to be done on a rotating schedule. It’s even managed to be a way to curtail the misbehavior of some students for fear they may not get to fulfill their helper duties. She takes her job of ensuring the school environment is clean and conducive for learning very seriously. Tucker-Holmes reports to duty at 5:00 a.m. sharp everyday and as chief custodian, she is the only one of her staff in the building until 11:00 a.m. when the remaining custodians arrive. “If a pipe bursts overnight or something else happens, I want to be there take care of it before the students get there at 8:00 a.m.,” she says. On average, these three ladies get home around 3:30 p.m. – making for a rather long and tedious day. But aside from being true servant leaders in their own schools and respective local communities, all three serve on the Board of Directors for the Georgia Association of Educators. They collectively volunteer with numerous community programs, continuing to help others when and wherever they can. “I just do what I do hoping it will help others,” says Peggy Smith-Mitchell. Although non-certified school employees may seem to have a fringe relationship with the day- to-day learning of students, nothing could be further from the truth. Many of these positions serve as proving grounds for individuals wanting to pursue teaching and school administration as a career path. State School Superintendent Richard Woods noted that ESPs know a lot about what goes on in a school. “As an administrator, it’s not hard to find out who the good teachers are,” he said. “All you have to do is ask the secretaries or the custodians and they’ll tell you.” Lois Butler, Peggy Smith-Mitchell, and Angela Tucker-Holmes all credit GAE for helping to grow their leadership skills; however, it’s evident that they brought a sense of purpose to the boardroom within their local chapters and the state governing board. The wheels on the bus may go round and round, but without the diligence of these exceptionally special people, the school day would hardly get off the ground. It’s been a wonderful journey working with students on a daily basis.” - Dr. Lois Butler I love working one-on-one with students. I’m able to build strong bonds with students” - Peggy Smith-Mitchell You have to be a special person to work with children with disabilities because you see a lot” - Angela Tucker-Holmes


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