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April 19, 2017

Helping paraeducators make the leap to teaching

Elida Alvarez says she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.

“In elementary school, I loved to stay in from recess and help teachers correct papers,” recalls the Edison Elementary bilingual paraeducator.

Alvarez graduated from college but financial constraints forced her to put her dream of teaching aside before she could earn a formal teaching degree and teaching certificate.

Now she’s enrolled in a Washington State University (WSU) Tri-Cities program focused on training paraeducators to work as teachers in special education or bilingual and English Language Learner (ELL) classrooms. It’s a dream come true for Alvarez and another pathway for the Kennewick School District to welcome passionate and capable educators to its schools who already have a wealth of experience.

“Being able to have our paraeducators maintain their current positions while studying to complete their teaching certificates is beneficial to the employees and to the district,” says Doug Christensen, assistant superintendent for human resources. “The paraeducator gains valuable experience in the classroom while attending school.”

Alvarez graduated from Othello High School and went on to earn degrees at Columbia Basin College (CBC) and WSU in Pullman. She had started work on a master’s in education when lack of funds required her to put her education on hold.

Despite the setback, she sought jobs that involved work with children, including time with the YMCA and other organizations. She moved to the Tri-Cities in 2011 when she was hired for her current position in a bilingual classroom at Edison. Alvarez fell in love with the dual language program and what it offered students.

She didn’t hesitate to put herself forward when she heard the district would begin participating in the WSU Tri-Cities’ Alternate Route program last spring. The program’s graduates earn bachelor’s degrees in Elementary Education with a K-8 endorsement and either a special education or ELL/bilingual add-on endorsement.

“She’s a perfect fit for this program,” says Alyssa St. Hilaire, the district’s bilingual coordinator.

Alvarez joined three other Kennewick paraeducators in the program’s first term of classes this past summer. They continue to participate in night classes and online coursework as they work as paraeducators during the school year.

Alvarez says it can be a challenge to balance her studies along with her work and family life but that it’s worth it.

“It shows me that my work as a paraeducator has really prepared me to become a teacher,” she says.

Alvarez is expected to begin student teaching as early as this coming fall and graduate in the spring of 2018. However, she had an early taste of teaching this fall when she filled in as a long-term substitute teacher in Edison’s fourth-grade bilingual classroom.

“It just felt so right,” Alvarez says of leading the classroom.