During the summer of 2022, five of FEA’s Education Support Professional (ESP) leaders participated in NEA online trainings on how to create ESP peer mentoring programs in their schools. The leaders shared with FEA staff how the trainings inspired them to build and support programs that empower ESPs in DoDEA schools.

The NEA trainings, entitled ESPs: Supporting Our Own Through Peer Mentoring, were comprised of four online sessions facilitated by NEA staff. Five ESP leaders from FEA Stateside Region, including two from the South East District and three from Mid-Atlantic District, attended the training over the summer as a group.

ESPs in the DoDEA system often face pressing issues, including a lack of communication from administrators, insufficient or unpaid breaks, and low pay compared to most teachers. New employees must deal with these challenges in addition to trying to navigate the complicated DoD system.

The participating ESP leaders hoped to help their new peers overcome the challenges of being a new ESP in the DoDEA system. As one participant explained:

“One of our biggest challenges as ESPs is how many things are not shared with us when we are hired. I had to learn through trial and error or just stumbled upon the information. My hope is a mentoring program would help those just hired into DoDEA to experience fewer struggles and frustrations than I did.”

Donelle Pistorino, a LIMS Educational Aide from DeLalio Elementary School on Camp Lejeune, explained the course structure:

“The program was a blended learning course broken up into self-paced online modules and webinars that started on June 17th and ended August 11th. Videos and quizzes helped us assess what we learned. We each had a personal journal to answer reflective questions as we progressed and help determine what mentoring model would best suit our locals. There were also group activities. We would meet online every two weeks to discuss and talk about what we learned. We also met every two weeks over Zoom with the NEA team and listened to other NEA ESPs from other states that had started mentoring programs.”

After completing the four online group sessions, the participants shared their positive experiences with FEA. Windie Kehn, an Education Aide at Fort Campbell High School and Vice President of the local association, learned how to create a strong peer mentoring program:

“I learned many great strategies to effectively design a mentoring program that helps build pathways to professional growth for both mentees and mentors. The program taught me how onboarding new employees helps foster a culture of learning and joint problem-solving, helps grow job performance, and closes the skill gaps among employees. The course also showed me how to design monthly meetings and quarterly check-ins with mentors and mentees, along with how to create mentee and mentor guides with policies, and tips to better assist and guide newly hired employees. It was a very empowering and inspiring program!”

Alesia Gladden, an Educational Assistant at Marshall Elementary School and President of the Association representing ESPs in Fort Campbell schools, praised the program as well:

“What I got out of the training was a bond with other ESPs and how to write a high-quality mentoring program, including how it should start and the goals it should accomplish. The experience was inspiring.”

Another participating leader reflected:

“I realized during the training that ESPs nationwide have similar struggles and frustrations that we have working for DoDEA. I learned how other school districts came together to build amazing mentoring programs that educate and empower their ESPs. By sheer determination and patience, we can recreate these experiences in our mentoring programs.”

Marangeli Encarnacion, President of Fort Stewart Educational Support Association, noted “the mentoring program was such an invigorating and insightful experience. I recommend it to all ESPs who want to help their peers achieve their goals in their professions”.

These ESP leaders are already taking action using the knowledge they’ve gained. Pistorino noted that she and other ESP leaders are now collaborating to create a program that can be used within DoDEA Stateside. Gladden and Kehn mentioned they are in the planning stage for creating an ESP mentoring program for the ESPs from Fort Campbell schools. In the meantime, on October 12th NEA staff will be visiting Fort Campbell do a learning day for all the local ESPs.

Mentoring your peers is a fantastic way for ESP members to be more active in FEA/SR, help develop the next generation of FEA/SR leaders, and ensure you and your ESP colleagues have a voice in your school. Sign up for the next online ESP mentoring course sessions by visiting: nea.org/espmentoringcourse.