The Forever Bear
North Star Elementary - Kodiak, Alaska
Julia Walker knows every student’s name when they arrive in the morning at North Star Elementary School in Kodiak. As cars pull into the drop-off area, she opens their doors, says hello to the parents, and helps the kids heft their heavy backpacks onto their shoulders before sending them inside. It’s a pattern that has been practiced and perfected over her 16-year career working as an Education Support Professional.
As the day progresses, the school hums along like a well-oiled machine. Students navigate the hallways in quiet, orderly lines so as to not disrupt other classrooms under the careful supervision of teachers and support staff alike. Even during recess, playful children seem at ease knowing that “Mrs. Walker” is there to ensure everyone has a turn on the swings and monkey bars. She is kind, and patient, and receives as many smiles as she gives out.
“I think it’s important to make kids feel like they’re missed if they’re not here. It’s so important to have a relationship with every student.” – Mrs. Walker
As is the case in public schools across Alaska, KIBSD still can’t hire enough classified employees to fill all of their open positions. As a result, Julia and her colleagues fill in wherever they’re needed on a minute-by-minute basis throughout the school day. Technically, Julia’s job title is “Reading Intervention Specialist”, however, that’s the tip of the iceberg. She also assists with testing, supervises lunch, watches over recess, and is there for students who simply need a helping hand.
Part of what makes Julia special not only in her school but in her community is her deep family ties. Julia has nine siblings who were all raised on Kodiak Island. She went on to raise 6 children of her own, each of whom graduated from Kodiak High School. It was when her kids entered public school that Julia started volunteering. At first, she helped out where she could, a few hours here and there to support events and after-school activities, but she knew she wanted more. In 2007, when all of her children were in school full-time, she took a job as a classroom aide and never looked back. Now, she’s considered part of the “backbone” of North Star, a critical part of the structure that’s preparing the next generation of Kodiak students.
Julia’s commitment to her students follows her everywhere. Children in grocery stores run up to her to give her hugs, kids learning to ride bikes in the school parking lot enthusiastically show off their progress, and community members wave enthusiastically to her as she walks her dogs through her old neighborhood, which is just a stone’s throw from North Star.
When NEA-Alaska staff visited Julia in September, her daughter Malissa was substitute teaching in a classroom just down the hall from her mother. Mallisa credits her mom with inspiring her, like so many other young people to become involved in their public schools and help out in any way they can.
Julia’s impact doesn’t start and stop at the doors of her school, she is also an active member of the Kodiak Island Education Support Association (KIESA). She’s served as a Building Representative and Treasurer and helps to sign up new ESPs as members when they enter the profession. She’s a natural bridge that connects new educators to the school community, and their union.
Every school in America would be just a little better off if it had a Julia Walker. The depth of her care for each and every student seems limitless because she knows they are the future of the community she holds so dear. Like so many Education Support Professionals, Julia represents the calm consistency necessary to support student learning.
On behalf of NEA-Alaska, we’d like to thank Julia Walker for her contributions to her school, students, and the community at large.
If you know an Education Support Professional who deserves recognition for their contributions to their worksite, or local association, please submit their name here.