WOODS CROSS — Even before Lily Eskelsen Garcia was named Utah Teacher of the Year in 1989, even before she became president of the National Education Association this year, she knew how important every person who crosses a child’s path can be to their education.
Garcia knew that when she started her career working as a salad lady at a school in Box Elder County.
“I understood that I had a little role to play with helping kids with nutrition,” she said, and she would talk to them as they came through the line and encourage them to make nutritious choices.
Her efforts to teach even as a salad lady are not unusual, she said.
“Our support staff take this very, very seriously – and they should,” she said. “Anyone who has contact with these kids has a chance to make an impact on these kids.”
Garcia, who is now based in Washington, D.C., came to Utah during American Education Week last week after visiting Nashville, Tenn., on Monday and before going to San Antonio, Texas on Thursday.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, was Education Support Profesionals Day, and she used it to praise those who work behind the scenes to help students.
The day began for Garcia and her team when they greeted bus drivers dropping students off at Odyssey Elementary in Woods Cross and presented them a hot breakfast in a box.
“We told them we couldn’t do what we do without you,” she said, and the reaction each got from each bus driver was tears.
The driver she spoke with said that while the children express thanks, it was the first time any adults had said thank you.
“She had never really been sure if the ‘big people’ understood how she sets the tone for the kids’ days,” said Garcia. “She understood her role. They’re the first person the kids see at the beginning of their school day.”
Besides honoring bus drivers, Odyssey Elementary students held an assembly where sixth graders presented laurel wreaths to those who work in the lunch room or help with technology or medical needs, specialists in music or physical education, and those who do custodial work or oversee activities on the playground.
“Education support professionals make a huge contribution to education,” said Laura Montgomery, president of the National Council of Education Support Professionals, who was visiting Utah from her home in Arkansas.
“Without our contribution to education and the specialized things we bring to the schools, they would be disfunctional,” she said.
Local leaders have long promoted the role of every district employee in educating children.
“Everyone is an educator,” said Bryan Bowles, district superintendent, even plumbers who fix the leaks so that students can remain in school. “Everyone’s contribution is to help students learn.”
Tamara Lowe, president of the Davis School District Board of Education, concurred.
“I feel like any time a student meets with an adult, that adult is a teacher by example and by being there to help students.”