St. Vrain Valley School District’s Pathway to Teaching, or P-TEACH, program received a $100,000 grant from Early Milestones Colorado as part of the Early Childhood Workforce Innovation Grant. The grants were issued to support innovative changes in the early childcare industry after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.
SVVSD is one of six grantees across the state to receive funding to “pursue efforts toward strengthening Colorado’s early care and learning workforce,” stated the release.
This is the third grant of its type that the district has received, according to Diane Lauer, district assistant superintendent of priority programs and academic support. The additional funding allows SVVSD to continue expanding the reach of its P-TEACH program.
Since 2017, the program has introduced high school students across the district to the education profession by offering concurrent enrollment courses at the University of Colorado Denver and Front Range Community College, field trips and paid externships with SVVSD’s Community Schools program, according to the website.
Last semester the program opened up to paraprofessionals and other education specialists in the district who are interested in becoming teachers, Lauer said.
“What this grant will allow us to do is provide tuition funding so that our adult working paraprofessionals can access the courses that we’re already providing to our high school students through concurrent enrollment,” she said. “So they can move forward and earn their early childhood education teaching certificate or a preschool director credential.”
The college-level credits can also go toward the completion of an associate’s degree in early childhood education at FRCC or even a bachelor’s degree at University of Colorado Denver, Lauer said.
Since the inception of the program four years ago, the level of interest and enrollment has “exploded,” she said. The program started with only 14 students enrolled. At the close of the 2021 school year, 150 people have enrolled including 110 high school students and 40 working adults, Lauer said.
“We thought we would have maybe 25 people (paraprofessionals and working adults) interested in the classes but we have doubled that,” Lauer said. “That’s how we knew that it would be a really strong plan to write another grant and really create this P-TEACH professional program.”
Through the grant, a cohort of up to 15 district paraprofessionals will have the opportunity to earn up to 12 college credits from the University of Colorado Denver beginning in the fall of 2021, according to the release. The grant will also fund a full-time P-TEACH counselor who will help high school students and professionals navigate the college application process, course registration and work-study balance.
“The earlier grants helped us build that foundation, so now we have the coursework, we have 12 classes that students can take,” Lauer said. “What this grant is going to do is allow us, moving forward, to be able to offer the same classes to our adult working paraprofessionals and education specialists.”
Wendy Anderson Howenstein, is a first-generation Puerto Rican and college graduate who enrolled in the launch of the P-TEACH program.
She said her mother, very early on, pushed the value of education, which led her to earn two master’s degrees and passionately advocate the importance of the field throughout her career.
“When I was brought on board with this program, I thought this is something I see as an incredible opportunity and wanted to reach out, to make the effort and go into the schools,” she said. “Most high schools have a Latinx club or an Arriba club, so I would go into those and tell the students we were creating these opportunities for (them), I would tell them to think about teaching as a career, to help their communities, as a way to coming back in, to work with families and be in classrooms for children to see a teacher who looks like (them).”
As Anderson Howenstein reached out to schools, she started noticing a growing interest on behalf of paraprofessionals who wanted to have the same educational opportunities, she said.
“The first paraprofessionals were trying out classes last semester and they would talk about it. They would say things like, ‘I tried strategies in my classroom and it was so cool because other paras have things going on and they will come to me. Now, I am the one telling other paras how to do it,’” she said.
The beauty of the program is both high school student and adults are able to learn together and learn from each other, even though in many cases there is a markedly large age difference, Anderson Howenstein said.
“In their job as paras, in some cases, they aren’t given the respect and admiration they deserve. With this program, they are given so much respect and value from the high school students,” she said. “It really is changing the way they see their jobs.”
What is especially unique about the P-TEACH professional program is it is not only open to SVVSD staff but to any partners in the community working in early childhood education, including adult working professionals at The Learning Center and Wild Plum, said Lauer.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our high school students to make connections with people who are already in the field,” she said.