Putnam County paraprofessionals with an associate degree can apply to complete a bachelor’s degree in education.
The county will cover textbook costs and employees can continue to work and be paid. The program takes two years and enhances retention for the district.
Samantha Edwards worked as a paraprofessional for eight years and said she has a passion for education.
Her AA degree did not qualify her to become a certified teacher.
“I really want to be a teacher, but, you know, how am I going to do this because I would basically have to quit my job and go to school. That was not an option for me,” Edwards said.
Now Samantha is in her second year of teaching after completing the Para to Pros Program. She participated in the first Para to Pros class in fall 2019. Paraprofessionals in Putnam County can apply to Saint Leo University for reduced tuition.
As long as they have their AA degree, employees can receive free books and continue to work while they finish their degree.
School administrators said they believe in focusing on personal and professional growth — starting from within.
“My kids went through this school district, my grandkids are going through the school district. So i definitely have a personal investment in what goes on here,” said Putnam County Superintendent Rick Surrency.
There have been 10 program graduates so far. There are a few in the program now and many waiting to enter. Administrators say that many of these paraprofessionals have not only been previously employed by the school district but are individuals with deep roots in Putnam County.
“I know who they are, I know who their siblings are,” said Jenna Miller, a paraprofessional. “It’s so great to have that personal relationship to understand them. You know them socially so now you’re learning with them academically.”
Miller said she is in her final few months of the program and will have her own classroom in August 2023.
During the two-year program, students gain more classroom time. Hours for an average education internship are cut in half because these Para to Pros work daily with students.