Janette Duarte didn’t learn English until age 10, when she moved to South Texas from Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, TX. That experience provided her with a foundation that has carried over into her work as an English Learner Academic Programs Facilitator with the Idaho Falls School District, and into her role as one of the leaders in the Idaho Education Association’s ESP community.
“I know what it’s like to move somewhere and not know the language or the culture,” she says. “I can really relate to the students I have been helping.”
Now in her fifteenth year with the district, Duarte serves as an important liaison between EL students and families and certified teachers. She makes sure staff are aware of what resources and assistance are available and counsels them on the most appropriate approach for dealing with students. A normal day consists of working with two different high schools and two middle schools. One of her primary responsibilities is helping classroom teachers write English Learner Plans (ELP), which are similar to IEP or 504 plans, but targeted toward helping students improve their language and learning skills.
“We are so fortunate to have Janette as part of our team,” says Gail Rochelle, Director of Student Achievement and School Improvement for the district. “She is so good at reading a situation and figuring out what the fundamental, underlying needs are and identifying the best way to address them.”
Prior to her current position, Janette spent eight years working for District 91 as an EL tutor at a middle school, where she worked more directly with students trying to build their English proficiency. In yet another related career endeavor, she also represents the district as an interpreter, working with Special Education students and their families in interactions with teachers and administrators.
Proud of the Role ESPs Play
As a longtime ESP herself, Duarte has a keen sense of the value they bring to students and the district. “Teachers and principals are important, but without ESPs those jobs couldn’t be done,” she says. “All of these important roles need to be filled, from bus drivers to para-professionals to custodians, and many more.”
Her son, Jerry Adler Nelson, fills one of those crucial positions as a custodian at Skyline High School. He graduated from Skyline and kept with the family tradition by becoming an IEA and IFEA member once he started the job. A story involving Adler highlights the reverence Janette has for her fellow ESPs.
“He had just given blood through a Red Cross blood drive and was still sitting down afterward, so I went to the cafeteria to pick up his lunch,” Janette says. “The lunch lady knew exactly who he was and what he eats and was so invested in his well-being.”
She thinks it is that kind of connection that makes ESP workers invaluable. “ESPs are able to communicate with students on a deeper, different level,” she says. “I love my job because it enables me to come in contact with just about every position in the district, and we are all focused on the same goal of helping kids.”
ESPs are sometimes taken for granted, but not by those in the know. “Janette and other classified staff are very much appreciated by the people who work with them on a daily basis,” says Rochelle. “It is vital that we have good people in place who can support out students.”
Janette places a high value on membership in both the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho Falls Education Association. She has been a member throughout her career and currently serves as the IEA’s ESP Representative for Region 6 and is also on the statewide ESP committee. She has been a building representative in the past, and even filmed a commercial for the IEA several years ago where she was part of a “I Do What I Do Because…” campaign.
“The IEA does a lot for teachers and ESPs,” she says. “And our ESP members give a lot back by working with the ESP caucus, attending Delegate Assembly, and serving on state committees like the Children’s Fund and Human and Civil Rights.
She also recognizes the connection between the policy decisions made in Boise and the educational environments educators and students experience in school buildings. “The IEA staff does great work at the legislature, but if we aren’t advocating as members and professional educators, very few people are going to speak out for our public schools.”
For more information about the roles of Education Support Professionals and IEA ESP membership, visit https://idahoea.org/join-iea/esp/.