A new program in Martin County public schools is helping the district grow its own teachers.
While not an immediate fix to the ongoing teacher shortage, it’s creating a pipeline of teacher talent for years to come.
The first group of future teachers in the program has eight paraprofessionals that are now in training to take over a classroom in about two years. Two of them are at Indiantown Middle School.
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Maria Ramirez is learning to feel at home in front of a classroom.
“I feel this sense of pride when I work with them, and I love when they have these breakthrough moments. And that really gives me satisfaction,” Ramirez said.
A product of the Martin County School District herself, Ramirez has been working as a paraprofessional or teaching assistant for more than two years.
“I go from classroom to classroom, and I work with English language learners. I translate for them. I try to facilitate their understanding of whatever concept they are learning,” Ramirez said.
Now Ramirez is taking the next step in her career. She’s one of the first to take part in a new teacher training program in Martin County schools.
“Looking ahead at how we can really build the bench so that we can have high quality talent in process all the time,” said Shannon Armstrong, the human resources director for the Martin County School District.
Armstrong said the program is designed to grow their own teachers and help retain them for years to come.
It’s a $250,000 contract with a company called BloomBoard to put 15 teaching assistants with associate degrees through online classes to earn their bachelor’s. While at work, they get on-the-job training, learning the in’s and out’s of being a classroom teacher.
“It really is a win. Its a free education. And in two to two-and-a-half years, they are walking away with a bachelor’s degree. They are gonna have the tenure theyve created working for us here at the Martin County School District. But they are also walking away with pride that they are a part of something big,” Armstrong said.
Ramirez said this allows her to focus solely on her goal of running her own classroom, without worrying about the cost to get there.
“At first, I didnt know what I wanted to do. And then as I started working with students, it sunk in. Like, this is what I need to do,” Ramirez said. “Its awesome this opportunity came around, because it definitely makes it easier to go back into school.”
Once the paraprofessionals become full-fledged teachers, they are asked to make a five-year commitment to teaching in the Martin County School District.
Seven more paraprofessionals in the district will begin the program in January. The district covers the cost for them to attend Lake Erie College online, earning a bachelors degree in either elementary education or exceptional student education.
BloomBoard is the company that facilitates the process with Lake Erie College. The paraprofessionals must have already earned 60 college credits or an associates degree to be eligible.
When the college program is competed, they will be able to take a subject area exam and obtain their FLDOE teaching certificate.