Former Harlem Globetrotter discovers his true passion is public education

Published March 2012 Voice

Before becoming a special education paraprofessional in the State College Area School District in 1999, Rudy Burruss traveled the world playing basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters.

But despite the fame and fortune that came with being a famous basketball player, Burruss says his current career in public education and his role as a union leader is much more satisfying and rewarding. 

“I do this job because I love it,’’ he said. “I want to give something back. There is nothing more purposeful than helping these kids. I played basketball all over the country and I made a lot of money, but my life has purpose here each day with these kids.

“A lot of people helped me and now this is my chance to give something back to others. There is great purpose in what I am doing. I might not be getting rich, but I am making a difference.”

Burruss, who at 6’8” towers over his colleagues and students, serves as a paraprofessional in a life skills classroom at State College High School. He works with the district’s Life Link program that prepares special education high school students to transition into independent living by learning to live in an apartment.

Burruss is also a union building representative and member of the negotiations team for the State College Area Education Support Personnel Association (SCESPA).

Raised in Harlem by a single mother, Burruss is very vocal about his opinions regarding voucher schemes that are being touted as a way to improve education in low-performing public schools.  

“It is not going to help any of our children if they allow these voucher programs to take more money from our public schools and send it to private schools,’’ Burruss said. “We have to get to the root of the problem. We must make the value of education something that surrounds every child every day, regardless of where they live.”

Burruss decided to get more involved with the union after SCESPA endured a lengthy contract battle. He started volunteering, and got elected to go to the PSEA House of Delegates and the NEA Representative Assembly last year. 

“I have convinced new hires to join by showing them how union membership can make them a better educator,” Burruss said. “I was inspired by the passion and commitment from union members at the House and the RA.”  

SCESPA President Pat Weaver calls Burruss a “refreshing and vibrant member,” and noted that his enthusiasm led him to take on more and more roles once he “caught the union bug.”

In addition to his union activities and his daily job with special education students, Burruss has worked with his students to do many community service projects, including providing Thanksgiving meals to local families in need, helping to clear and rake baseball fields and nature centers, and painting walls at Human Services agencies.  He has also volunteered to help raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Elk’s Home Care for children with disabilities.

As if that’s not enough, Burruss also coaches varsity basketball and volunteers to help young special needs athletes in the community.

Jennifer Lee, a State College Area Education Association member who works with Burruss, praised him for his commitment to the students and the community.

“Ours is a classroom made up of students with multiple disabilities and life skills support needs,’’ Lee said. “He breathes the class into his soul every day

. . . He is their strongest advocate. To Rudy, our kids are family and family is the priority.” 



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