Finger Lake Elementary
Mandy Swarthout enters Finger Lake Elementary School daily with two things on her mind. First, do everything in her power as a para-educator to help her intensive needs students get the most out of their lessons, and two, lift up her fellow Education Support Professionals (ESP) to ensure they’re respected and valued as part of their school community. Driven by these two purposes, “Ms. Mandy”, as her students call her, has become an ESP leader at the local, state, and national levels.
“We are not certificated teachers, which is hard, because we’re still the one’s who sit with students on a daily basis and teach them. We may not have the certificate, but we’re still valuable. We’re still shaping young minds.”
Since entering the public education workforce 4 years ago, Mandy has seized nearly every opportunity to increase her professional practice, while taking on the role of Membership Chair for her local, the Mat-Su Classified Employees Association (CEA). The responsibility of Membership Chair is something she doesn’t take lightly. “I love being out in schools across the district talking to like-minded professionals,” said Mandy. “Keeping both members and potential members informed about what’s happening in our schools is very important and it gives people the opportunity to hear what the union can do for them.”
Mandy’s enthusiasm for speaking with other ESPs has brought her to the Northwest Arctic Borough School District and Fairbanks in recent weeks, where she helped sign up new members and talk about professional issues. In March, Mandy led a training at the NEA Annual ESP Conference on organizing classified employees for members from across the country. Now, she’s focused on getting back out to schools in the Mat-Su in hopes of strengthening their union during a contentious and drawn-out bargain.
It’s clear that Mandy draws a great deal of her comfort in talking with other educators from her confidence in working with students. She approaches every child with warmth and affection but doesn’t shy away from correcting behaviors and ensuring a calm learning environment for all. She’s engaging, focused, and meets every student at their level to help them succeed.
Mandy is quick to credit others for the success she’s had, “we’re all part of a team that’s doing everything we can to support our kiddos.” But, her principal, Juliana Hardy, credits her for going above and beyond, “Mandy is so full of energy, and the kids respond to it! She is committed to her students, her colleagues, and her work as an educational support professional. She is willing to jump in to support around the building as needed and is a wonderful advocate for building needs.”
Mandy’s work, like the work of all ESPs isn’t easy, but she finds it deeply rewarding. To her students, she’s a caring and supportive educator, constantly helping them find their “lightbulb moment”. To her fellow ESP members, she’s a tireless advocate, organizer, and leader who is only beginning to explore her true potential.
“It’s important to be involved in our union because in order for us to get the things we need to continue in this profession, we have to have multiple voices,” said Mandy. “ My role as a membership chair is to give people the strength and courage to find their voice and keep us on the right track.”
The future is bright for “Ms. Mandy”, and on behalf of all members of NEA-Alaska, we can’t wait to see where she’ll go next.
If you know an Education Support Professional who deserves recognition for their contributions to their worksite, or local association, please submit their name here.