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Thanks to the advocacy of longtime Chicago Teachers Union members like 94-year-old Roberta Wilson (right), one of our most active and cherished retirees, today we celebrate PSRP Appreciation Day across the state of Illinois!

Since 2006, this day has been set aside to recognize the school clerks, teacher and library assistants, technology coordinators, hearing and vision screeners, parent advocates, ESL interpreters and many more without whom our schools cannot function. PSRPs — paraprofessionals and school-related personnel — are essential pillars of school communities, and those who both parents and administrators rely on for insight and clarity, and to keep children safe and secure.

Many of our PSRPs are matriarchs of families and communities, mostly Black and Brown mothers, grandmothers and aunties, who love others’ children like they were their own. They are members of church congregations, caretakers and supporters of small neighborhood businesses. Inside of schools, they care for our unhoused students, while also doing the “little things,” like reminding our babies to put on coats and sweaters before recess and dismissal. They answer the questions that no one else can answer. Your PSRP can tell you everything that’s wrong in your school building — and everything that’s right.

We appreciate PSRPs for keeping children safe in a pandemic, and for always being there for our students and school communities, despite challenges they may face in their own lives. The past 19 months have been difficult, and the next 19 may be as well, so we lean on our PSRPs because their strength is our union’s strength, and their solidarity is an inspiration.

My mother retired as a school clerk. My daughter was a CPS PSRP, and I — as a 25-year veteran of Chicago Public Schools — am a PSRP for life.

In 2019, we won for the first time in our union’s history, salary increases that lifted the predominantly Black and Latinx women who make our schools run above the federal poverty line. Eight PSRPs (below, with myself and President Jesse Sharkey, Financial Secretary Maria Moreno, and CTU counsel and research) were part of the bargaining team for our contract, involved in discussions regarding class size, nursing, summer school, payroll, benefit days, early childhood, attendance, and special education and homeless issues to ensure that the contract recognizes all facets of the role paraprofessionals play within CPS.

Later this month will mark one year since the passing of my friend, confidant and sister, Sherri Dabney-Parker (above, with red button), who was a PSRP at Cather Elementary and beloved in our union. I miss her dearly, and have been thinking of her every day this month because of the love she brought to everything she touched. I wish I could give this love back to her for just one more day.

So love your PSRPs today. Give them their flowers and their tribute while they are still here with us, with a bouquet, a special meal or gift, or simple acknowledgement of the tremendous difference they make in our lives. Treat them, and respect them, like the essential workers and extra special individuals that they are.

And appreciate them — today and every day.