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Addressing Utah’s teacher shortage

The U’s University Neighborhood Partners is helping grow and stabilize the K-12 teacher workforce in Utah by investing in paraeducators.

The University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) is investing in paraeducators in hopes of addressing two important education issues in the state: the teacher shortage and under supported paraprofessionals—teacher’s aides, afterschool coordinators and other hourly, non-benefitted workers. The Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE) partnership aims to increase and diversify the K-12 educator workforce in Title I schools by providing free training to these dedicated paraeducators and pathways to becoming a licensed teacher.

“There’s a lot of discussion in our state around how to attract people to the teaching profession, for example, by decreasing licensure requirements for people with college degrees,” said Paul Kuttner, associate director of UNP. “At the same time, we have experienced, committed paraeducators who are key to the success of our schools and are far more diverse than the overall teaching force, yet they receive low wages and little training.”

The GYOE partnership invests in paraeducators by offering free trainings that align with the Utah state paraeducator standards. Right now, about two dozen paraeducators are seven trainings into an eight-session pilot series of trainings that will better prepare them for the classroom. In addition, GYOE opens up opportunities for these paraeducators to earn their teaching licenses and become successful classroom teachers.

“It’s so important that the kids and parents in our communities at these Title I schools and minority neighborhoods see teachers and educators of color and have bilingual educators,” said Jacque Tovar, who has been a paraeducator in Salt Lake City’s schools for more than 20 years. “We often come from the same minority neighborhoods they live in and can offer that extra level of understanding and support in their lives.”

The partnership includes UNP, the U’s College of Education, the Salt Lake City School District, Salt Lake Community College, the National Resource Center for Paraeducators, the Good Samaritan Foundation and paraeducators themselves. Together they are working to break down the financial and social barriers that members of low-income communities and communities of color often face when entering the teaching profession.

“We have a cohort of 12 paraeducators working toward their teaching licenses,” said Kuttner. “They access college advising, take introductory classes for college credit at no cost and meet regularly with a group of fellow paraprofessionals who support one another throughout the process,” said Kuttner.

The GYOE 2018-19 annual report shows the 12 members of the cohort completed 35 college courses in the first year for a total of 105 credits. Meanwhile, 40 paraeducators took part in the pilot training series. Kuttner said they hope to continue building and growing the program and are always seeking additional resources and partners.

Supporting GYOE

Scholarship funds

Tuition and fees will continue to be a major priority for GYOE. In addition to supporting cohort members in applying to all available scholarships and awards, GYOE is looking to develop its own scholarships for committed participants.

Foundational supports

GYOE recognizes that the barriers to higher education are not only financial. They also include the need for supports like childcare, transportation, tutoring and technology that allow individuals to support themselves and their families while furthering their educations. GYOE is looking for financial and in-kind donations in this area.

For more information or to get involved, email Paul Kuttner at