The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $796,628 grant to California State University, Long Beach for a program that will help Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) "paraeducators"-- also called teachers aides--become fully qualified and certified special education teachers.
Called the "Long Beach Paraeducator Partnership Program," the four-year project will provide a comprehensive training program for 60 paraeducators (15 per year) that will lead them to bachelor's degrees and/or Education Specialist credentials, the required credential for those teaching students with disabilities. The project is set to begin in January 2001.
"Paraeducators play an extremely important role in our local classrooms, and many of them have the desire and commitment to become fully credentialed teachers," said Robert C. Maxson, president of Cal State Long Beach. "This grant will help 60 of them realize that goal, and at the same time, help address the local community's shortage of teachers, especially in the area of special education."
A paraeducator is a school employee who works alongside and under the supervision of a licensed or certificated educator to support and assist in providing instruction. According to Cynthia Hutten, director of the paraeducator project and a faculty member for the Department of Occupational Studies, these people primarily work with students who are disabled or with students for whom English is their second language.
"While they are often called teacher's aides, paraeducator is a much better term as it more accurately describes what it is they do. Paraeducators work with some of the most challenging students in our classrooms, often with no training," explained Hutten. "That's a shame because many of these individuals are just waiting for information that will help them do their jobs better."
Hutten will be working on the project in conjunction with the university's College of Education. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, CSULB professor of special education, will be involved in the project along with Marie Hegwer-DiVita, lecturer in educational psychology, administration and counseling, who will be the field-based supervisor.
Overseeing the program for Long Beach Unified is Judy Elliott, assistant superintendent of special education for the district.
The program will recruit 15 LBUSD paraeducators each year for the next four years. Each selected participant will receive three years of tuition, including two summer sessions of instruction. Those selected will also receive a stipend to purchase books and other education-related materials.
In addition to the financial assistance, the program will offer convenient on-site classes whenever possible, and the school district has committed to provide child care.
"This program will offer an educational opportunity to people who might not ordinarily have the chance to earn a degree or credential," Hutten pointed out. "We anticipate getting a number of people who wouldn't normally go to college. We want them to use the skills and enthusiasm they have acquired from working as paraeducators and get them out there teaching."
Hutten also said the project will include paraeducators who reflect the population of the district's students. So, of the 60 selected, some 40 paraeducators will be members of underrepresented populations, including those with disabilities and those who are members of an ethnic or racial minority group.
There is a small catch for those selected for the program. Participants must commit to teaching two years for every year they receive funding under the program. Within that commitment, their assignments will be with students with disabilities in either a special ed or regular ed setting.
One other vital component of the program will be to establish a link with the existing Education Specialist Internship Program for new classroom teachers. This link will provide continued support once program participants are teaching the classroom.
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