Nearly a year and a half ago, Sarah Luckey had a goal. She was a paraprofessional, or para, supporting teachers in a DPS classroom. Ms. Luckey had aspirations of becoming a teacher. To help paras like Ms. Luckey turn their dreams into realities, Denver Public Schools offers the Paraprofessional-to-Teacher training program. This effort allows would-be teachers the chance to attain their teaching degrees at little to no cost by providing financial support including opportunities for full scholarships.
Ms. Luckey is the first “graduate” of the inaugural cohort, completing the program in just 17 months. She now leads a class of her own as a teacher at Fairview Elementary. Tuesday, her first-grade class threw her a graduation party to congratulate her, complete with balloons, party hats and hand-made cards.
“Congratulations Ms. Luckey,” first-grader Elijah read aloud from his crayon-illustrated card. “Thank you for teaching me reading and writing.”
“I think it’s a very important job,” Ms. Luckey said of her role as a teacher. “I hope I’m doing a good job in giving them all the skills they need academically, socially and emotionally to get them ready for the world because it’s a pretty tough world out there.”
The pipeline gives paraprofessionals – many of whom are DPS graduates, parents and community members – an opportunity to serve students while they work toward their teaching certification. Paraprofessionals in DPS bring a depth of experience and knowledge because they have worked alongside teachers and understand who the students are and what they need to be successful. In addition to helping passionate individuals pursue their teaching goals, the program is a way to increase the diversity of DPS’ teacher workforce.
“Our current pool of paraprofessionals is made up of 65% educators of color, compared to approximately 25% of the current teacher workforce,” Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said. “Not only do our paras work ‘on the front lines’ with our teachers, most of our paras also mirror our student population.”
One of the key barriers paras and other high potential teacher candidates face when contemplating a degree in education is the time away from work and financial constraints. Through funds from the 2016 voter-approved mill levy and generous community donors, including Gary Community Investments and Guild Education, aspiring teachers are provided scholarships to complete the training program and graduate from paraprofessional to teacher. Active recruiting for the next cohort of paraprofessionals is now underway.
Paraprofessionals interested in joining the Para-to-Teacher Pipeline program should visit DPS’ partner websites Guild Education, UNC’s Center for Urban Education or the NxtGEN Paraeducator program from the University of Colorado Denver.