UMass Amherst Helping Teacher Aides to Become Teachers in Springfield

AMHERST, Mass. - Using nearly $260,000 in funds from two grants, the University of Massachusetts, Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), and the Springfield Public Schools are building a new system for teacher aides in the Springfield schools to earn their bachelor’s degrees and eventually receive state teaching certificates.

Teacher aides (paraprofessionals) will be offered several options under the program called the Springfield Education Partnership. These include enrolling in the UMass University Without Walls (UWW) program, taking courses at STCC, and working on teacher certification courses offered through the UMass School of Education. All course work will be offered in Springfield.

Funding for the partnership comes from a three-year $250,000 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). STCC will administer the FIPSE grant. Using a second $9,000 grant from the Eugene A. Dexter Charitable Foundation, administered through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the UMass School of Education will work to redesign and make teacher certification course work available in Springfield.

One of the goals of this program is to encourage minority teacher aides (paraprofessionals) to become teachers, according to Gary Bernhard, director of UWW. Currently, Bernhard says, more than two-thirds of Springfield’s 25,000 public school students are members of minority groups, but only 16 percent of certified teachers are minorities. Teacher aides, by contrast, are about 25 percent minorities. In addition, Bernhard says, teacher aides know the students and the school system, and they hold significant responsibilities in the classroom, especially in working with bilingual students, making many of them excellent candidates to become teachers.

"One of the things we are trying to do is establish a pathway that allows the teacher aides to use their experience in the schools to improve their education and earn teaching certificates," Bernhard says.

Teacher aides who have a year or more of college credit will be able to enroll in the UMass UWW program. UWW is designed for non-traditional students who create their own individualized bachelor’s degree program. Those with few or no college credits will enroll at STCC,where they can take basic college course work. At the same time participants are working on their bachelor’s degrees, they can work toward completing their teacher certification. "The people in the Springfield schools and STCC are committed to working with UMass to make this a success," said Jay Carey, associate dean of the School of Education.