EMU and Washtenaw ISD partner on program to help parapros become certified teachers

Eastern Michigan University (EMU) has launched a unique partnership with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) to help address a national teacher shortage.

A fourth cohort of 25 paraprofessionals just started the Paraprofessional-to-Teacher Certification Pilot Program. Parapros, also known as teachers' aides, work in classrooms under the supervision of a certified classroom teacher to support one-on-one or small group learning.

WISD Superintendent Naomi Norman says the program creates a pipeline that allows parapros already working in local classrooms to gain their special education teaching certification.

"If we have 1,200 parapros in our county and know they're fabulous with kids and love working in schools, what would be the barrier to them becoming teachers?" Norman says.

County parapros have expressed that the main barriers are money and time, since college classes typically take place during their work hours, Norman says. After some brainstorming, WISD staff reached out to EMU to negotiate a plan.

"They get to work full time and earn an income, and we arrange classes with EMU for each cohort to be held here at the WISD building, or remotely," Norman says. 

EMU offered reduced tuition for the program, and all nine school districts contributed money to a fund so that most of the parapros' expenses will be covered as well.

Norman says another important factor was getting a waiver from the Michigan Department of Education so that parapros can work directly on their special education teaching certificate. Educators usually must earn a bachelor's degree in general education, then take several more semesters of coursework to become certified for special education. The change also saves these parapros a semester of student teaching since they're already experienced in the classroom.

"We have more people applying than we have room for," Norman says. "We just moved into our fourth cohort and still have a waiting list."

In the same vein, WISD also recently announced it has received a $110,000 Future Proud MI Educator grant. That funding supports teachers who are already pursuing add-on degrees and certifications in the teaching field. 

Norman says EMU committed to a pilot program of four cohorts of parapros, but she and others at WISD are trying to figure out how to continue the program on a permanent basis. She says staff from all nine county school districts are also discussing how a similar program might be implemented to provide a pathway for county residents to gain general education teaching certifications.

"We've found so many folks who are really committed to Washtenaw County and who have been working here a long time," Norman says. "They're excited to take their talents into teaching."

A video with more details about the program can be found here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of WISD.