Feature stories

Para family trees

Job that provides ‘sense of purpose’ spans generations in hundreds of households

Encouraged by their sister Susan O’Rourke (second from right), a school secretarJonathan FickiesEncouraged by their sister Susan O’Rourke (second from right), a school secretary at PS 23 on Staten Island, her three older sisters chose paraprofessional careers in their 40s, agreeing it’s a good job for women who have raised children and want to give back to the community while getting an education. Forming what they call “our UFT family, our own little union” are MaryAnne Petrozzo (left), a para at PS 204 in Brooklyn, and Carolyn Randazzo (right) and Elizabeth DiMartini (second from left), paras at PS 41 and PS 52, respectively, on Staten Island. Randazzo and DiMartini have 14 years of experience, Petrozzo has nine. They went back to school, earning associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, after raising their families. Two of their daughters are New York City public school teachers, one of whom started as a para.

Union proud logo para Susan O’Rourke, a school secretary at PS 23 on Staten Island, encouraged her three older sisters to become paraprofessionals.

Anthony Sanchez, his wife, Alejandra, and his mother, Juana, are all paraprofessionals in schools in Queens.

Christina Cingari and her daughter, Brianna, are both paraprofessionals who followed in the footsteps of their mother and grandmother, Mary Valva, now retired.

These three families are among the hundreds of New York City families with more than one member — siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and, in some cases, three generations — employed as paraprofessionals.

“It should come as no surprise that we have many families of paraprofessionals because it’s a job that provides a sense of purpose and, thanks to the union, also provides economic stability and excellent benefits,” said Paraprofessionals Chapter Leader Shelvy Young-Abrams.

Contract by contract, from the beginning of the chapter’s founding 50 years ago, the UFT has negotiated improved pay, working conditions and benefits for paraprofessionals. Once one family member becomes a para and realizes all the job provides, the word goes out.

MaryAnne Petrozzo of PS 204 in Brooklyn and her two sister paras find a deep sense of joy in their new careers and security as union members.

“You really realize that sense of security when you walk into a doctor’s office for the first time and know you have full health coverage,” Petrozzo said.

Like many other paras, Alejandra Sanchez, a para at PS 229 in Maspeth who is married to another paraprofessional, finds being in the classroom more rewarding than working in an office. She is grateful for the union’s Career Training Program, which enabled her to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Raul Delhoyo, a para for 14 years before becoming a school counselor at Choir Academy in Harlem two years ago, is the son of a para, Carmen Delhoyo. His mother, who works at PS 169 in Manhattan, is planning to retire after 25 years. He says paras are “valued and respected” by the rest of the school community and teachers often seek their advice.

“District 75 couldn’t function without its paras,” Delhoyo said.

Anthony Sanchez, his wife, Alejandra (left), and his mother, Juana (right), wereJonathan FickiesAnthony Sanchez, his wife, Alejandra (left), and his mother, Juana (right), were drawn to their para careers because they are passionate about education. Each also wanted a job with a salary and benefits that would facilitate having a family, spending time together and giving back to the community. Alejandra works at PS 229 in Maspeth, while Anthony works at John Adams HS in Ozone Park, both in Queens. Juana is a para at Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood, Queens. The opportunity to get college degrees “has been one of the biggest highlights,” said Alejandra, “because we believe in setting a precedent for our children.”

Brianna Cingari (left), her mother, Christina (right), and her grandmother, MaryMiller PhotographyBrianna Cingari (left), her mother, Christina (right), and her grandmother, Mary Valva, became paraprofessionals because of the support they could find in their union and the support they could provide to each other. Brianna, who is just beginning her career at P141, a District 75 school in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, can always count on sound advice from her mother, a 14-year veteran at PS 254 in Sheepshead Bay who also was a para representative for six years and who relied on her own mother, a para for 20 years before retiring. The UFT had Christina’s back this year when her principal wouldn’t accept her doctor’s note that she was ready to return to work after surgery. “I’m a single parent and had used up all my sick leave so I needed to be back at work,” Christina explained. “Then the union stepped in and saved me from any loss.”

“They remember the mom in me,” Cassandra Deas (left) said of the scores of studeMiller Photography“They remember the mom in me,” Cassandra Deas (left) said of the scores of students whose lives she’s touched in her 25 years as a paraprofessional, including the past 10 years at Archimedes Academy for Math, Science and Technology Applications in the Bronx. She marvels at the changes she’s seen while earning her bachelor’s degree and moving up the paraprofessional career ladder. Chervon Deas joined her mother 10 years ago when she realized she could earn more and have educational opportunities as a para that she didn’t have working in day care. She is now a para at PS 352 in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.

The Ceja siblings see themselves paving the way to good union jobs that guaranteMiller PhotographyThe Ceja siblings see themselves paving the way to good union jobs that guarantee a stable income and benefits. Adilene Ceja began her paraprofessional career at MS 839 in Kensington, Brooklyn, in 2015. Her brother Luis (left) joined her there in 2016, the same year Mario (right) began his career at PS 230, also in Kensington.  Together, they believe they have created new expectations and a new career path for the younger members of their family. “Our parents are proud of us because we are the first in the family to be in the education field,” said Mario.

Aida Talavera and her daughter Crystal share their “passion for working with chiJonathan FickiesAida Talavera and her daughter Crystal share their “passion for working with children” as paraprofessionals at IS 220 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “My mother has been my role model for years and I’ve learned a lot from her both growing up and as a paraprofessional since I joined her two years ago,” said Crystal. Aida Talavera, who has a bachelor’s degree in education, enjoys the job so much she has been doing it for 24 years. Crystal, who is working toward her own bachelor’s degree through the Paraprofessional Chapter’s Career Training Program, finds the kids “amazing.” 

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