AUGUSTA – Theater arts teacher Debra Susi took Wednesday off to attend a statewide celebration honoring people who work in schools, but at first she had a hard time relaxing.
“I was worried about what was happening back at school,” admitted Susi, who teaches at Warsaw Middle School and Maine Central Institute, both in Pittsfield. “Teachers sort of by nature want to be with our students and in our classrooms,” she said.
It was her dedication – and that of other school workers around the state – that was lauded during Celebrate School People Day at the Augusta Civic Center.
The idea was to honor teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, educational technicians and other school workers by sharing their stories.
The event included videotaped interviews with people recalling how school workers made a difference in their lives. In addition, there were videotaped narratives in which school people themselves talked about why they loved their jobs.
Musical performances by area schoolchildren also were part of the entertainment at the event which was attended by approximately 1,500 school workers whose names were drawn in lotteries last month.
“People don’t realize the amount of time and energy” teachers put in every day,” David Fox, a school bus driver and substitute teacher at Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook, said. He had been excited about being selected to attend the event, he said.
“Most teachers are under appreciated. A celebration is needed,” Fox said.
The event was designed by former broadcaster Patsy Wiggins and former school counselor Kathleen Alfiero of the South Portland nonprofit organization i’monair. First lady Karen Baldacci and Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron co-sponsored and attended the two-hour-long celebration.
“I was there to honor all of the school people,” Gendron said later. “I thought it was an incredible event and a wonderful testament to all types of people who work in schools and the impact they have on students.”
Gov. John Baldacci has issued a proclamation stating that Oct. 18, 2006, is Celebrate School People Day.
Alfiero said she and Wiggins planned to ask Baldacci about setting the day aside as an annual event. Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are working to make it a national celebration as well, she said.
Waiting for the entertainment to begin, Pat Walchli, a special education consultant to the Matinicus Elementary School on Matinicus Island and previously its only teacher, said she liked the idea that all school people were being honored.
“Kids don’t notice” what kind of job the school staffer who is helping them might do, she pointed out. “If someone’s good to them, it doesn’t matter who they are.”
Kari Perry, a cafeteria worker at Vickery Elementary School in Pittsfield, agreed.
Working with children “is a big job,” she said, “whether you’re in food service or a teacher.”
Richard Ackerman, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Maine, who attended the event, said he liked the celebration because it focused on teachers’ stories.
“This is a real affirmation for teachers,” Ackerman said. “They’re being listened to. That’s the greatest gift.”