What started as an ordinary Thursday morning for computer lab and technology paraprofessional David Thomas took a surprising turn when Secretary of Education Susan Bunting surprised him with the Delaware 2022 Educational Support Professional of the Year award at Lake Forest’s East Elementary.
Bunting praised Thomas for his leadership and collaboration, saying “his support of students, families and educators alike has made him an essential member of his school community, and he well represents the critical roles educational support professionals play in schools across our state.”
Former East Elementary principal Douglas W. Brown said students, families and staff have relied on Thomas throughout the pandemic.
“Dave fulfilled every request or question every teacher, parent or student had about Zoom, Pear Deck, Clever, camera views, etcetera, without ever complaining,” he said. “If there were ever a year for someone such as Dave to be recognized for their efforts, it is definitely this year of the pandemic because without Dave, East does not make it through with the successes that they had.”
Thomas, an 11-year paraprofessional, said he wants his students to understand the importance of technology as a tool to advance their learning.
“Technology is more than video games, tablets, and phones. Use of a mouse for precision and the ability to type proficiently are essential,” he said.
Thomas said his students graduate from East Elementary with confidence in their typing abilities and proficiency in Microsoft Office applications.
His third graders even create PowerPoint presentations before they start fourth grade,” he said, noting that teachers often reach out to tell him how advanced the students from East Elementary are when they move on to middle school.
Thomas has led several initiatives at the school.
In 2014, as schools were looking for more STEM opportunities for students, Thomas led the implementation of MinecraftEDu, the educational version of the popular Minecraft game.
“MinecraftEdu is a specialized modification to the game that creates teacher-controlled virtual worlds through the school’s local network that allows students to work as teams, create code, use geometry principles to create structures, and solve complex problems,” Thomas said. “This pilot program has become a staple of the technology classroom at East Elementary, and it has helped students to develop a love of the inner workings of technology.”
Five years ago, Thomas also launched a live video morning show that is broadcast in each classroom. He and his co-host present school happenings and try to engage students, who have the chance to appear as special guests on the live show and be meteorologists for the day.
“We build vocabulary with words of the week, dive into social studies with our ‘This Day in History’ segments, expand our minds with weekly Growth Mindset instruction, and read student-submitted jokes on ‘Funny Friday!’ ” he said.
Lake Forest Superintendent Steven Lucas called Thomas a tireless worker, selfless leader and superlative representative for Lake Forest School District.
“Mr. Thomas brings to Lake Forest East Elementary School a blend of knowledge and enthusiasm for learning which is unmatched,” Lucas said.
Thomas is one of 19 educational support professionals honored this year.
Each was chosen to represent their districts or the Delaware Charter School Network in the state’s Delaware Educational Support Professional of the Year Program.
The Delaware State Educational Support Professional of the Year (ESPY) program recognizes outstanding service by school employees who provide direct or indirect services to students and their families.
Employees considered for the award include paraprofessionals, custodial staff, secretaries, nutritional staff, bus drivers and bus aides.
From those nominated at the school level, one educational support professional of the year moves forward to represent each district or charter school community in the state program.
Each district or charter network winner receives a $1,000 personal award from the winner’s district or charter school. The state program then chooses one person annually to serve as Delaware’s Educational Support Professional of the Year.
State winners receive an additional $1,500 personal award from the Delaware Department of Education as well as $2,500 to be used for the educational benefit of his or her students.
A selection committee reviewed the local winners’ state applications to select the 2022 Delaware Educational Support Professional of the Year.
Local winners and state nominees include:
- Appoquinimink: Wendy Schweiker, paraprofessional, Appoquinimink High School
- Brandywine: Angela Hamilton, paraprofessional, Concord High School
- Caesar Rodney: Alma Bartolomeo, paraprofessional, W.B. Simpson Elementary
- Cape Henlopen: Bryant Hazzard, paraprofessional, Mariner Middle School
- Capital: Darien “Stretch” Robinson, paraprofessional, William Henry Middle School
- Charter Network: Rachael Dallas, systems administrator, MOT Charter School
- Christina: Clara Doyle, ESL paraprofessional, Leasure Elementary School
- Colonial: Jennifer Dunford, child nutrition worker, Colwyck Center
- Delmar: Danielle Youngblood, administrative assistant/eSchool coordinator, Delmar Middle and Senior High School
- Indian River: Gwendolyn Gillespie, paraprofessional, Georgetown Elementary School
- Lake Forest: David Thomas, computer lab/technology paraprofessional, Lake Forest East Elementary School
- Milford: Patrick Seibel, technology specialist, secondary campus
- New Castle County Vo-Tech: Lindsay Gliniak, senior secretary, St. Georges Technical High School
- PolyTech: Sandra S. Henning, information technology help desk technician, POLYTECH High School
- Red Clay Consolidated: Christopher ChuJoy, autism instructional support paraprofessional, Anna P. Mote Elementary School
- Seaford: Mark Murphy, custodian, Seaford Middle School
- Smyrna: Donella Berryman, financial administrative assistant, North Smyrna Elementary School
- Sussex Tech: Jacques O. Bowe, Jr., paraprofessional, Sussex Technical High School
- Woodbridge: Virginia Martinez, ESL paraprofessional, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School
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