The pilot class of Idaho State University’s Paraprofessional to Certified Teacher (PaCT) Program. | Courtesy Idaho State University
POCATELLO — A new Idaho State University program has provided Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 paraprofessionals with a scholarship to become certified teachers.
ISU’s Paraprofessional to Certified Teacher (PaCT) Program unveiled its pilot class Thursday. The group is made up of around 40 current PCSD25 employees wishing to become teachers, according to College of Education Dean Jean McGivney-Burelle.
“This is a great day for the College of Education, for Idaho State University and for school district 25 and all the paraprofessionals,” McGivney-Burelle told EastIdahoNews.com.
As the dean explained, some of the pilot students already hold a bachelors degree and will use this program to earn a masters in education. Others, she added, have some college credits but no degree while even more have zero previous college education.
The program aims to stabilize the teacher shortage, which affects the Pocatello-Chubbuck community the same way it has affected the nation.
By providing this opportunity to paraprofessionals who work in the schools and with the student, in many cases, for as little as $12 per hour, the program has the potential to reward all involved, PCSD25 HR Director Brenda Miner said.
“For us to be able to have our paraprofessionals, who work with our kids and give 110% all the time, have this opportunity is huge. They know our systems, they know our school district, they know our kids,” Miner said. “You know they’re going to be great teachers. … They have already chosen this profession. They just maybe ran into life — some challenges, as far as financially or time constraints.”
Among the paraprofessionals who jumped at the opportunity is Sara White.
PaCT pilot students Sara White (left) and Bonnie Porter. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com
White, who enters the program having never attended a college class, has been assisting at Pocatello’s Wilcox Elementary School for seven years. Her time there, she explained, began when her son’s kindergarten teacher was looking for parents to help with the class.
For three years, White volunteered what time she could when she wasn’t at work. Over time, she said helping at the school became her full-time job and she has been working at Wilcox as a paraprofessional going on four years now.
She said that the decision to join the program was not an easy one. She felt that by taking her own classes she was leaving her son, now in seventh grade, without the help he would need.
But, after much consideration, she decided that this was a decision that benefitted her entire family.
“It’s a little stressful and anxiety-ridden but I do want a better life for my family and for myself,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity — it’s hard to say no to something like this. … I can’t express my gratitude and the excitement I have towards this opportunity.”
Bonnie Porter is in a different position.
Porter enters the program with college credits, having attended Western Governors University in Millcreek, Utah with hopes of becoming a special education teacher. Having aided classes while her autistic now-adult son was part of the Sugar-Salem School District, Porter developed a passion for assisting students with special needs.
Then last October, now as a Pocatello resident, Porter adopted a child with autism and began helping his classes at Wilcox.
She has wanted to pursue a career as a certified special needs teacher for years, but the classes never fit her schedule, and the finances put her family in a bind.
Now, through the PaCT Program, the classes will come at no cost to her, and are built around the normal schedule of a school employee.
Porter said that she and some of the other pilot students were in tears discussing what this opportunity means to them.
“I can’t even express my gratitude,” she said. “It’s huge, it’s a huge opportunity.”
Porter told EastIdahoNews.com that the pilot class is expected to graduate with degrees and a teacher certification in three years. They will then be able to join a thinning workforce of teachers.
The program is a product of what Miner called an excellent partnership between the school district and university. And she is excited to see where it can go.
McGivney-Burelle is equally excited. As she said, the classroom teacher is “the heart and soul of the public school system.”
“This college degree, this certification, is not going to just change the lives of the student — the paraprofessionals — but their students and the families of the paraprofessionals as well,” she said.
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