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Dee Neiter of Billings is ESP of the Year!


Surviving middle school can be a struggle for just about anyone. For Montana's American Indian children who often face poverty and racism, it's especially difficult.



Dee Neiter works with 8th grade
student Sioux FastHorse


Fortunately for the Indian students at Riverside Middle School on the south side of Billings, they have Dee Neiter to help them navigate the stormy waters of middle school. Neiter is the school's Indian Education Tutor.


For two decades, Neiter has helped Indian children - and all children - survive and thrive in school. "Her commitment to her students starts every day before the first bell rings and usually continues long after the school day is over," said Janet Baum, Neiter's colleague and president of her local union in Billings.


In honor of her boundless dedication to students, Neiter recently was named as Montana's Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year for 2008.

"I was shocked. I'm still shocked," Neiter said of the award. "I'm very touched."


Neiter understands the pressures minority children face. She herself is Navajo and Spanish. She grew up speaking Spanish in a low-income family. "She knows where her students are coming from," said Baum.


Along with tutoring students in math, reading, and writing, Neiter finds ways to help low-income students get eyeglasses and dental appointments. She oversees the school's Upward Bound Program and teaches knitting at "Friday Late Night," a program to keep students off the streets from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m.


Former students and their families "remember her as the saint that helped them through those rough middle years," said Marcia Beaumont, Neiter's colleague at Riverside.


Montana's Indian children tend to have a much higher dropout rate and lower achievement than their non-Indian peers. "A lot of our Indian kids drop out after the 8th grade," Neiter said. Her goal is to help as many students as possible, one student at a time, stay in school and succeed.


The Diversity Club that Neiter sponsors at Riverside has helped keep many children in school by giving them a sense of belonging and dignity. Through the club, Neiter finds opportunities for students to volunteer in the community and celebrate Indian culture.


"She leads by example, and the club's emphasis, like hers, is in service," said Beaumont.

The ESP of the Year program is administered by MEA-MFT, the statewide union that represents education support professionals as well as teachers, higher education faculty, and other public employees across Montana.


Neiter will now go on to represent Montana in the national Education Support Professional of the Year program sponsored by the National Education Association.