While schools are navigating how to operate during the coronavirus, Pathways to Teaching, or P-TEACH, graduates are returning to classrooms as apprentices as part of P-TEACH NxtGEN, referred to as the NxtGEN program.
“The P-TEACH Program introduces St.Vrain (Valley School District) high school students to a career as an educator by offering a variety of concurrent enrollment courses,” according to the Innovation Center of SVVSD website.
The program launched three years ago and is housed at the Innovation Center in Longmont, which allows students from all of the SVVSD high schools to attend.
Following high school, students can enroll in the NxtGEN program while also enrolling in college courses at the University of Colorado Denver and Front Range Community College. NxtGEN is in its inaugural year, said Nicole Rudman, St. Vrain NxtGEN coordinator and instructor.
Students who graduated from the P-TEACH program last year are returning this year to classrooms at Mountain View Elementary and Timberline PK-8 as paraprofessional apprentices. Currently, there are eight NxtGEN apprentices working in SVVSD.
The apprentices work with early childhood teachers in their classrooms for 20 hours a week, spending the remainder of their week enrolled in college courses earning their bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, elementary education or elementary special education, Rudman said.
Deejha Blash-Lopez graduated from Longmont High School in May and participated in the P-TEACH program. She is now an apprentice to Lauren Vargas, a kindergarten teacher as Mountain View Elementary.
“Through this experience I get to apply what I’m learning in class and see it actually happen,” Blash-Lopez said. “I am able to see all the behind the scenes work of the classroom, which helps me get a deeper understanding of all of the work that it takes to become a teacher.”
Apprentices assist teachers in small group work, learning how to make lesson plans and implement them and other classroom tasks.Due to the online-only start to the school year, Vargas said she has focused on helping Blash-Lopez navigate the technology students utilize at home.
Blash-Lopez said the apprenticeship also has helped with her college courses because she has been able to apply concepts from the classroom and apply them while teaching students.
“It has been helping me with my classes, as well as what I am learning in my classes is helping me apply them here,” Blash-Lopez said. “I had just been learning about subitizing in one of my math classes and then that following week I was able to use what I learned and teach it in a small group setting.”
“Subitizing is the ability to recognize a small group of objects without counting,” according to Make, Take & Teach.
“I really enjoy working with the children and just seeing them light up and see them do what they love to do,” Blash-Lopez said.
While elementary students are still learning online, Blash-Lopez said she has enjoyed getting to know the kids through online activities and the classroom’s student of the day celebration.
Vargas likes to emphasize that building relationships with students is one of the most important things teachers can do because of all the other things, such as lesson plans and how to assess students, will be taught in college classes. “No teaching or learning can happen without building that relationship with every student in your classroom,” she said.
The P-TEACH program was funded through a 2018 grant from Early Milestones Colorado and the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The NxtGEN program was launched with an Early Milestones Early Childhood Workforce Innovation Grant that SVVSD received last spring.
The NxtGEN program is offered to “for both recent graduates and adult paraprofessionals seeking to advance their education careers,” according to an SVVSD news release.
“Expanding our program gives us the opportunity to support our diverse community of P-TEACH graduates as they study to become future educators, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college,” Rudman said. “Through their apprenticeships, they can apply the theories that they are learning in college to the real world of the classroom, all while having the support of their fellow cohort members, their mentor teacher, and NxtGEN coach.”
Vargas said, “It’s such a great opportunity for young teachers that already know that this is their passion and what they want to do. How amazing of an experience is this to be in a district that they want to teach in and be learning these things all the way through their four year college experience.”