Just three months after finishing high school, some recent graduates are back in St. Vrain classrooms. Eight members of the inaugural class of the Pathways to Teaching (P-TEACH) program are working as apprentice teachers at Mountain View Elementary and Timberline PK-8. Apprentices are paraprofessional educators, who, under the direction of a classroom teacher, work to support student learning through a wide range of planning, instruction, and clerical duties.
For 20 hours a week, P-TEACH apprentices gain real work experience as paraprofessionals, while receiving added mentorship from a classroom teacher and weekly 1:1 coaching from their P-TEACH NxtGEN @ St. Vrain Coordinator and Instructor, Nicole Rudman. The rest of the week, they are enrolled as students at the University of Colorado Denver and Front Range Community College, working to earn credits toward their bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, elementary education, or elementary special education.
Deejha Blash-Lopez, a 2020 Longmont High School graduate, works at Mountain View Elementary School with kindergarten teacher Lauren Vargas.
“Through this experience I get to apply what I’m learning in class and see it actually happen,” says Blash-Lopez. “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.”
The P-TEACH program was developed in 2018 with grant funding from an Early Childhood Workforce Innovation Grant through the Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado Initiative, which is funded by Buell Foundation and Gary Community Investments and led by Early Milestones Colorado, as well as a Colorado Department of Higher Education Plan Into Action grant. Through the customized pathway program, aspiring young educators can pursue teaching careers in high school by getting a head start on their post-secondary education through concurrent enrollment at CU Denver while also gaining hands-on work experience.
St. Vrain received a second Transforming the Early Childhood Workforce in Colorado investment this spring, adding $190,000 in support of the expansion of the P-TEACH program to include a four-year bachelor’s degree pathway for both recent graduates and adult paraprofessionals seeking to advance their education careers. The grant provides funding for P-TEACH NxtGEN students for identified college-level coursework at Front Range and CU Denver, all of which will transfer to CU Denver to be applied toward their degree requirements.
“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, the P-TEACH NxtGEN @ St. Vrain Coordinator and Instructor, says. “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.”
For Blash-Lopez and her peer cohort, the ultimate goal is to become a lead classroom teacher. As they complete their studies at CU Denver, the P-TEACH apprentices will continue to work as paraprofessionals for three years, followed by a year of student teaching. They will graduate college with a competitive advantage, ready to join the workforce and inspire the next generation in St. Vrain, and beyond.
“I want to try and be a positive teacher and help make kids want to learn,” Blash-Lopez says. “I love seeing when children start to progress and you can see how excited they get when they learn something new. I want to try and ignite that spark for learning.”