Every month this school year, BMORE will be placing a spotlight on a different PSRP (Paraprofessional & School Related Personnel, "para") to highlight their amazing work. PSRPs are leaders who make classrooms go, and are the most underappreciated educators in Baltimore City Public Schools.
The fourth in our series is Aurelia White, who has been working in Baltimore City Public Schools for 41 years as a Title 1 Assistant, IEP Chair Assistant, Attendance Monitor, Transportation Coordinator, and many other roles. She spent the bulk of her time at Booker T. Washington, and is now serving students at ConneXions. Mrs. White grew up in East Baltimore, not far from the old Dunbar High School.
What was your experience like growing up in Baltimore City's Schools?
I didn't have to take the bus, I was able to walk to school for elementary, middle, and high school. All my siblings went to the same school which was pretty cool because it was like a family there. The neighborhood there were nothing but families there.
How do you think that is different now for kids going to Baltimore City's Public Schools?
It's different because now kids come from all over, so you don't even know them like you did in your community. You were able to know everybody and everybody knew you. Now that kids are bused from all over, I don't feel like there's any unity anymore like it used to be.
At what point did you start thinking that you wanted to work in schools?
I wanted to be a fashion designer when I heard that BCPSS was hiring, so I filled out an application. Once I got in I actually liked what I was doing.
What did you like about it?
What I liked about it was the kids back then were more respectful than today. The difference now is in order to get that respect from the kids you have to give it. You have to show them the way, and by showing them, they're able to give it back to you, where before, they just respected you from the start regardless.
What was your role when you first got started in the system?
I was a Title 1 assistant to a teacher and I took the lowest group of kids to work in a small group inside of the classroom. My relationship with the teacher was nice, I still remember her name it was Ms. Snowden, an older white lady. She was serious. We worked all the way until the end of the day and I helped out with papers and anything else she needed.
Have you had other relationships with other teachers where it didn't work out?
At one point I wound up being an assistant to an assistant principal. Some of the teachers, I guess because I didn't have a degree and I had to tell them what was going on, they felt like, who was she to tell me this information. There was this one lady, she was old school and couldn't adapt, so one day I just asked her, "what did I ever do to you?" She looked at me and said, "nothing." So I said, "so then why do we have these difficulties?" Because I'm a person that speaks my mind and asks questions. From that point on we didn't have anymore problems because when she thought about it she felt then like, why am I doing this? she realized upon reflection that her problems weren't actually with me.
It seems like one of your strengths is being honest, direct, getting to the point, and not dancing around an issue or being scared to go there.
Right. I feel like the way to approach an issue is, you do it in a respectful way, but you get your answer. Everybody doesn't take well to a person that's straight up all the time but that's the only way I know how to do it! Once we had that conversation, things worked out from then on.
Baltimore City these days, teachers come in, they're gone within two years, one year...why do you think you've been here 40 years and you're still going strong?
I come into schools prepared, I come to work on time, I put my all into it and when it's time to go I still sometimes stay over to do what I need to do to get the job done. At times I feel burn out, but every year brings something different. I was taught to be the best at whatever you do, so whatever job I have, whatever role I'm in, I try to do it to the fullest. I try to live by that and I tell my son the same thing.
What are some of the biggest challenges PSRP's are facing in schools right now?
One of the biggest things that we face is the yellow school bus, when they don't come on time and the kids are supposed to get out at 4:00pm. They don't come until 4:15, 4:30, 5:00, sometimes I'm here until 6:00 and that can be very frustrating to me, the kids, their parents. The buses are overbooked. They give them more than they can handle in the time-frame they're given.
Inside of the school I know that for me, sometimes communication isn't always there. There might be something going on where the office should be the first to know and instead we're the last. People plan stuff and don't include us or assume we already know.
What's your relationship like with the union? What are ways they've supported you?
I've only reached out to the union for help once, when I was placed at an extreme special needs school, changing diapers and things of that sort. I called up Lorretta [Johnson, now AFT Secretary Treasurer] and said I've never asked for anything, but I need to move from this school. Lorretta called me back and said I have a school for you, it was the easiest thing I've ever done and they just took care of it.
Are there any ways you wish the union was supporting you and other PSRPs right now that they're not?
When we work during the summer, we feel that our pay isn't what it should be. Teachers get extra for their summer work whereas we get our normal pay.
Do you think your current salary and benefits is enough to live off of?
I'm sure it could be more!
There's a divide in many schools between the teachers and PSRPs where the teachers look down upon the PSRPs and do not fully respect them, is that something you've experienced?
I have seen that, but not since I've been here [at ConneXions]. Everybody pulls together here. They look to us, they need us, and they constantly tell us they appreciate us. It's a different kind of school here. Last year they had an administrative day where the secretaries were taken out to lunch with the directors of the charter school. There were flowers. They appreciate us and they show it.
That is something that I had not seen in a long time. A lot of times you work, and not that you're looking for praise but every now and then everyone wants to hear something good.
You're a human being! It's hard to work all day and not getting any acknowledgement for what you do! What excites you about coming to work still after 40 years?
The students. The students. Even though we're in a new era it's the students that give me that driving force. I'm still able to get across to them things that they need to know and show them the right way. When they're upset, I can calm them down. I can help them out. I'm always nice and polite to them so when their tempers get the best of them they'll come back and apologize to me. I can see where I'm making a difference in a child's life.
What Mrs. White's coworkers think about her:
"Mrs. White has a demeanor that truly connects with the students and staff on a personal and professional level that impacts her day to day interactions in many positive ways. She is organized and deliberate in her actions that all work to propel the school, its students, parents, and community forward. Her sense of style, confidence, and genuine compassion for others is what makes all the difference in the world. She helps students and staff heighten expectations and guide them in the right direction to achieve excellency. She is a great support for the community often going above and beyond to contribute to our great school."