NJEA and BEN-FM spotlight ESP

Published on Monday, October 24, 2016

NJEA and BEN-FM have partnered to educate the public about the important role Educational Support Professionals play in our schools and in our communities. Each month, BEN-FM features an NJEA ESP member in a 60-second radio ad talking about the contributions they make in their students’ education.


Helping students overcome barriers

LoisLois Yukna is an attendance officer in the Woodbridge Township School District. She’s also been a bus driver, trainer, and safety coordinator. Her 28 years in the school district have been an asset not just to the school community, but to the entire township. She works closely with families to stress the importance of education and overcome barriers for school attendance, She’s volunteered as a weekend house resident at a home for women fleeing abusive relationships and facing difficult pregnancies. She’s served on the Juvenile Conference Committee to give firs-time youth offenders an opportunity to make amends and choose a better path.

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Coaching students to success

PaulPaul Reagle is a paraprofessional at Sterling High School in Camden County. He’s also served as a baseball coach and football coach. When he’s not on the field, he is coaching students to become better readers through the Read 180 programs and shadowing special needs students in the workplace as a job coach. He lives in the school district and was president of the Magnolia Little League and served on town council. He’s in his 34th year as an umpire and was named the New Jersey State Umpire of the Year.

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Keeping schools safe through technology

Frank KristenFrank Giffone is in his 14th year as the telecommunications technician for the Lawrence Township Public Schools. He is responsible for the phone and surveillance systems in all seven of schools and the media and technology center. Frank not only supports the technological needs of students and teachers, he is also vigilant about the surveillance and security system. His two sons graduated from the district and he continues to live there. He serves as the vice president of the Lawrence Administrative and Business Technical Association.

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Helping preschoolers make a smooth transition

Jackei KristenJacqueline Kruzik is in her 17th year as an instructional assistant in the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District. She works with preschool students and helps them develop academically and socially as they prepare for elementary school. She and her family live in the community and her daughters went to school there. As a parent and employee of the district, Jacqueline has been active in the PTO, Girl Scouts, and other community groups. Earlier this year, she helped build a playground in memory of a student and was featured in an NJEA television ad. She serves as the Legislative Action chair for her local association.

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Continuing a tradition of excellence

Continuing a tradition of excellence Shirley Swanson has been a bus driver for the Delsea Regional School District for 12 years. She drives for both Aura Elementary School in Elk Township and Delsea High School so she gets to see her students go through elementary school, high school and then graduate. Shirley’s children went to school in Elk, and she and her children are proud Delsea graduates. She is active in her community and chairs the food pantry at her church. She also provides counseling and support for needy families in her community.

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Wearing many hats

Joann Houck is the 6th grade Administrative Assistant to the guidance counselor and the principal at Maurice and Everett Haines 6th Grade Center in Medford Township. As the front desk receptionist, she is the first person the children, parents and public meet when they come to school. From solving students’ problems, to scheduling new students or working on a school event, she is the woman with many hats. She works hard to help parents and students feel comfortable and confident during the difficult middle school years. She serves as an association representative and on the negotiations team. She is on the ESP committee and was 2013 Burlington County ESP of the Year. She and her husband of 32 years are remodeling a boat to celebrate having overcome serious health issues. She had open heart surgery and he beat prostate cancer.

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VeraHelping students through life’s little messes

Vera Faux is the day-shift custodian in the J. Harvey Rodgers School in Glassboro. Her school houses three-year olds, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten students. She’s been working in the district for 19 years and started her career at the high school. She is a Glassboro Public Schools graduate and actually attended both of the schools in which she’s worked. She love interacting with her students and enjoys plenty of laughs with the little ones! She says that their laughter is contagious! Vera helps her students navigate life’s little messes and know that they are loved and cherished.

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AnnaMariaGiving students a national view

Anna Marie Cooney provides in-class support for students at Monongahela Middle School in Deptford Township. She raised her children in Deptford and has worked in the district since 1991. She and her husband have traveled to all fifty states. She loves sharing her experiences with students and encouraging them to see the country. Anna Maria says that the best part of her job is working with super people, including her students. She loves to see the look of pride on students' faces when they succeed. She is active in the school community through activities including Pink Day for breast cancer and Teen Cancer Awareness Day. .

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NancyThe sky’s the limit

Nancy Cogland is a paraprofessional in Old Bridge at the Jonas Salk Middle School. She helps her middle school students navigate the complexities of adolescence. She instills a sense of self-confidence in her students so they know that the sky’s the limit. In addition to her role in the classroom, Nancy and her colleagues hold a shoe recycling drive to raise money that is used to meet their students basic needs. Over the years, they have provided students in need with anything from coats to school supplies.

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EricTaking care of the details

Eric Stinson is a secretary in the Cherry Hill Public Schools. His days start very early since he is in charge of substitute teacher coverage. His days are far from routine. He may help a staff member with a technology problem, assist a student who is having a bad day, or schedule parent-teacher conferences. He deals with all of the details, so teachers and administrators can focus on students.

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Mary Jo Nagy Every day is a new adventure

Elizabeth Baird Jones is a paraprofessional at Bankridge Regional High School in the Gloucester County Special Services School District. She works one-on-one with a student with special needs and provides in-class support. For Lizz, every day is a new adventure – she never knows what is in store for her when she gets to school. She loves the energy of her students and attends most of their after-school extracurricular activities to show them that she cares about them and supports them.

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Elizabeth BairdHelping students thrive

Gretta Bohren is a paraprofessional at the John C. Milanesi School in the Buena Regional School District in Atlantic County. She lives in town and her own children went through Buena Schools. She works with second and third graders with special needs. She works closely with the classroom teacher to address the individual needs of her students. Their students are not only achieving, they are thriving! Gretta tells her students that she loves school so much, she never left!

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Mary Jo Nagy Making lives richer

Mary Jo Nagy is a special education assistant at Lawrence High School in Mercer County. She loves being able to help her students overcome their challenges to become successful, more independent adults. She enjoys attending their games, shows, and concerts, and being a part of her students’ lives. She not only makes a difference for her students, they make her life much richer, as well. She served as a swim coach for 17 years and remains active with Special Olympics.

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Edwinta Rhue Developing leaders of tomorrow

Edwinta Rhue has been a community aide in PS # 22 in Jersey City for the last 12 years. She handles student attendance, contacts parents, and serves as a liaison between the home and school. She loves working with her students who range from Pre-K through fifth grade, and helping them grown into the leaders of tomorrow. Along with her colleagues, she helps organize lots of events to bring the community together like Saturday skating parties, trips, and participation in the Breast Cancer Walk. She was the 2012 Hudson County ESP of the Year and is very active in her local, county, and state associations.

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Mary O'Keefe Helping students thrive

Mary O'Keefe has been an elementary teacher assistant in Freehold Township, New Jersey, for 6 1/2 years.  She works with students with special needs including autism, Down Syndrome, hearing impairment, as well as behavioral issues.  She loves seeing her students succeed and develop the confidence to take on new challenges. She also enjoys helping students with behavioral issues learn to work with other students appropriately. She was a Girl Scout leader and is currently the treasurer for her son's Boy Scout troop. She’s also CPR certified and serves as the EpiPen delegate in her school. She is active in the Freehold Township Education Association.

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Al Wood Making the trip to school fun

Al Wood is the NJEA Educational Support Professional of the Year. He’s also been a school bus driver in the Morris School District for 25 years.  He’s driven every age of student but for the past 8 years, he’s been driving the pre-school run. He turns the school bus into a party bus for the youngsters by singing songs that include their names and turning their winter hats into "talking puppets".  In his school community, Al organized a non-perishable food collection with the Transportation Department and collected 730 pounds of food to stock the local food pantry in just one week.  He and three other drivers even dressed like a bus to participate in a hunger walk. He serves as a liaison to help ESP in his schools district deal with any issues that may arise at work.

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Making music

Michael & Olive Giles

Olive and Michael Giles have been making beautiful music together for nearly 30 years – literally! Michael plays the tuba with bands and symphonies in the tri-state area and Olive is a jazz artist who performs along the east coast. When they are not performing, they are working in the Princeton Public Schools as Educational Support Professionals. Olive is a secretary in the guidance office at the high school while Michael is a custodial and maintenance professional in an elementary school. They met in college as music students and turned their commitment to music and education into careers. Both are active in their school communities and enjoy the time they spend with their students.

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Keeping schools well-stocked

Albert PowellAlbert Powell has been a stock clerk at Cherry Hill High School West for 13 years. He’s responsible for deliveries, mail, and keeping classrooms and school offices well-stocked. He works throughout the summer to keep the school running. He’s known a lot of his students since they were in kindergarten since he’s been involved in Little League for 38 years, 36 of those years as an umpire. He enjoys spending time with his students and believes it is important for kids to know that they have a whole team of adults looking out for them.

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Iris GutinAssisting the whole school family

Iris Gutin is beginning her 25th year in the Cherry Hill Public Schools this September. She was an Educational Assistant for 12 years and has been an Administrative Assistant at Rosa International Middle School since 2001. Her job is challenging and very busy. She works with the assistant principals and athletic director, as well as teachers, students, and parents. She schedules buses for field trips and orders supplies for the departments. She even helps the drama department by making costumes. One of her favorite parts of the job is when graduates come back to visit. She is also active in her local association.

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Rick FriedmanHelping with technology

Rick Friedman is the technology coordinator at Cherry Hill High School East. He’s worked in the district for over ten years and raised his family in Cherry Hill. He loves introducing students and teachers to new technologies and seeing students incorporate these new skills into their studies. He works closely with teachers to help them learn how to use technology to enhance their lessons.

He also designed and maintains the school’s website and assist administrators with all of their technology needs.  He sees his students throughout the community since he volunteers on many projects through his synagogue. He’s also active in the Cherry Hill Education Association.

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Roberta Rissling


Making a difference

Roberta Rissling has been a paraprofessional in the Township of Franklin Public Schools for the past ten years. She finds it extremely rewarding to work in the community where she lives. She works one-on-one with students who need extra help. She loves her job because she is making a big difference in the lives of her students. She also serves as the president of the Township of Franklin Support Staff Association. All of her members work along with the entire school district to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for all students. She also mentors students after school and is a Sunday school teacher. Roberta is featured in an NJEA ad on BEN-FM for the month of April 2014 .

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Christine KosarAn essential part of the school team

Christine Kosar is a school bus driver in the Washington Township School District. She moved here from England 10 years ago and has worked in the district for eight years. Her kids went to school in Washington Township, as well. She serves as the president of the Washington Township School Support Services Personnel Association. Bus drivers are an essential part of the school team. They not only ensure our students are safely transported to and from school, they are prepared to take control in an emergency situation. Bus drivers are trusted adults who are mentors, caregivers, and guardians for their students. Chrissy loves her job because school support professionals help shape the future of our nation. Chrissy was featured in an NJEA ad on BEN-FM for the month of March 2014

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Caring for kids

Dotty Grieb

For the past 16 years, Dottie Grieb has been a specialized teaching assistant for the Gloucester County Special Services School District. Her son, who is hearing impaired, was a student in the district. Dottie works with students with all kinds of special needs including autism, hearing impairment, behavioral challenges, and multiple disabilities on a reading program. She also serves as president of Gloucester County Special Services Education Association and coaches a basketball team that plays in the Special Olympics League. She loves to see the satisfaction on her students’ facing when they achieve their goals whether it be completing an assignment, scoring a basket, or having a good day. Dottie was featured in an NJEA ad on BEN-FM for the month of February 2014.

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Helping the community

Annette RuchAnnette Ruch is NJEA’s 2013  Education Support Professional of the Year.  She’s been a paraprofessional in the Toms River Public Schools for 20 years. NJEA ESP members are not just an integral part of the school community, but play a key role in their cities and towns. After Hurricane Sandy, Annette’s school became a shelter. The school staff jumped in to help. She helped organize the adopt a bus driver/bus aide program to help those that lost everything. She and her colleagues collected donations and helped the community get back on its feet.

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John Staab 2012-13

From student to foreman

John Staab is a maintenance foreman and the vice president of the Pine Hill Education Association. He started his career in Pine Hill with a part-time job in the district when he was a student there. His part-time job grew into a career that he loves. John and his colleagues in the maintenance department keep their schools running efficiently. From repairing a burst pipe to fixing a collapsed roof, John and his team make sure Pine Hill students have safe, comfortable classrooms where they can learn and thrive. John was featured in an NJEA ad running on BEN-FM for the month of August, 2013.

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Rose Casey

A song in her heart

Rose Casey is the president of the Educational Assistants of Cherry Hill. She has been working with middle school students with special needs for the 10 years. She loves helping her students learn and grow. Rose starts her school day playing the saxophone with band students in their home room. She's played for 50 years and serves as a member of the middle school band. They often play together after school and at community events. She lives just a mile from school and enjoys seeing her students both in and out of school. Rose was featured in an NJEA ad running on BEN-FM for the month of May, 2013.

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A trusted adult and confidant

Lynn Cianci

Lynn Cianci has been a food service worker in the Washington Township School District for 19 years. She enjoys the challenge of preparing nutritious and appealing meals for high school students, but the thing she enjoys most about her job is interacting with her students. Lynn was featured in an NJEA ad running on BEN-FM for the month of April, 2013.

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Brian Currie

Keeping schools running

For the past 22 years, Brian Currie has been a maintenance mechanic in the Buena Regional School District. His workday is busy and may include an array of tasks ranging from performing maintenance on the heating system, to helping a students find a lost retainer. But his favorite part of the job is spending time with his students and encouraging them to do their best and make good choices. That’s why Brian was featured in a 60-second radio ad on BEN-FM in March of 2013. Brian was also featured in one of NJEA’s television commercials. Listen Listen

Working with parents as a team

Darlene McKnightDarlene McKnight, Trenton Paraprofessional Association member, was one of the educational support professionals to be featured in a series of ads running on Philadelphia’s BEN-FM in February of 2013.

She shared her role as a parent liaison in Trenton’s public schools and talked about how she works to expand students’ worldview to see greater possibilities for themselves. Through her work she knows firsthand that all parents want their children to attend a great public school. In the ad, McKnight talks about how she helps students see their role in taking advantage of the opportunities a  great public education can provide.

McKnight has been active in the Trenton school system for over 30 years, first as a volunteer and now as a staff member.

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Keeping schools safe

School security guards and custodial and maintenance workers keep our public schools safe, healthy places to learn. That's why NJEA and BEN-FM teamed up to highlight the important work they do in two 60-second radio ads.

Mark EckertThis ad features Mark Eckert (left), a custodian at Tinc Road Elementary School in Mount Olive. This former Marine explains how thanks to their expertise in the building trades, custodial and maintenance workers save districts thousands of dollars a year. Mark is the vice-president of the Mount Olive Education Association. His ad ran through the month of January, 2013.
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Joe GalegoAnother ad featured Joe Galego (right), the head security guard at Thomas Edison Career Academy High School in Elizabeth. Joe shares how security guards not only help their students feel secure, they help them mature into responsible young adults. Joe serves as vice-president of the Union County Education Association. His ad ran through the month of December, 2012.
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Helping students succeed

Donna O'Malley

Anyone who has ever worked in a public school knows, the person who keeps things running smoothly is the school secretary. School secretaries work with all members of the school team, including parents, to ensure that everyone has what they need to help students succeed. That’s why NJEA and BEN-FM highlighted Donna O’Malley, a school secretary in  Tabernacle and vice-president of the Burlington County Education Association in a 60-second radio ad. The ad ran five times a week through the month of November, 2012.

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Traci Davis

Starting the day off right

School bus drivers are the first people our students see each school day and the last ones to get them home safely at night. To spotlight the important work of these NJEA members during National School Bus Safety Month, driver Traci Davis (right) of the Glassboro Education Association recorded a 60-second radio ad on radio station BEN-FM. The ad ran five times a week through the month of October, 2012. Listen Listen

Caring for kids

Marge VallieuFor the month of September, 2012, NJEA’s ESP of the Year Marge Vallieu shared how she helps the children at her school feel safe and well cared for in her career as a cafeteria manager in the Gloucester Township School District.

Marge and her colleagues feed hundreds of students a day, so the folks at BEN-FM planned to bring the staff a catered lunch to thank them for their commitment to our public schools and the children of Gloucester Township.

The ads ran five times a week through the month of September.

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