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Para Regretfully Tells Students, 'You Are on Your Own'

Beth Eckerd


She comes from a small union in a small state, but the voice of paraprofessional Beth Eckerd is packing a big punch. The kindergarten paraprofessional in northern Delaware is one of 43 teaching assistants in her district under notice that they may not have jobs this fall. Members of Eckerd's AFT-affiliated union, The Federation, Local 762, which represents paraeducators in the Brandywine School District, have started wearing black in protest and are planning to march on the state capital.

With local president Karen Kennedy, fellow paraprofessionals and teachers by her side, Eckerd read the letter below to the school board on May 24. Her voice joins thousands of others across the country in the AFT's "Pink Hearts, Not Pink Slips" campaign.

Dear Friends,

I am sorry to tell you that I will no longer be here every day to help you. But it has been decided you no longer need me. I am sad I won't be there each morning as you arrive to greet you with a hug and a smile, to tell you how happy I am to see you, how each one of you is so special, and to help you start your day. Next year, there won't be enough people in the hallways waiting for you. … You will be on your own.

To my friend who could not even write your name when you came to school, I worked with you every day all year and now you are reading first-grade books. When you struggle next year, I am sorry, but no one will have the time to be there to help you. … You are on your own.

To my other friends who I took aside each and every day and gave extra direct instruction to, and worked with at your level so you could make progress and keep up with the lessons, I am sorry that next year when you are lost, no one will be there to give you that extra time. … You are on your own.

To my friend who hit, kicked, scratched and bit me every single day for two months, I hung in there with you, working hard and loving you despite your behaviors, and developed a trusting relationship so that now, with a lot of guidance, you will sit and work for me and learn. I am sorry that next year no one will be there while you spiral downward, not learning and disrupting the class. … You are on your own.

To my friend who sat silently, unable to focus, needing constant gentle reminders to do your work, I sat with you and without reprimanding you kept you focused on what you needed to do. I am sorry. Next year you will sit unnoticed and drift. Your work will not be completed, and your learning will diminish and you will fall behind. …You are on your own.

To my quiet friend who came to me with your fears and questions, I hugged you and listened to you. I told you that you were smart and capable. I helped you believe in yourself. I am sorry that next year, no one will be there to comfort you, tell you how special you are and make you feel better. …You are on your own.

To each and every one of you: When you struggled to learn, I encouraged you. When you made bad choices, I guided you back. When you acted out, I stuck by you and had patience. When you talked, I listened, and respected and valued you for the unique person you are. When so many of you needed extra support and attention, and the teacher didn't have time to get to you, I found that time. … To each of you who I loved and cared for every day, thank you. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to have helped you learn and grow. I love all of you, and I will miss you terribly.

But, I am sorry, it has been decided I am not an important or necessary part of your lives and your education anymore. My dear friends, I am so very sorry. You are on your own.

With much love, your friend,

Mrs. Eckerd

[Annette Licitra, Mark Bostic]

May 26, 2010