Orange County teen paraprofessionals share opportunities from professional classroom program

Published 12:20 am Friday, April 14, 2023

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VIDOR — Taryn Marks is part of teaching program that allows paraprofessionals to work inside the classroom and interact with students years before she would have been if attending a traditional education at area universities.

The 18-year-old Vidor native also teaches hip hop and ballet at Powerhouse Dance Academy in Vidor.

“I grew up taking dance classes, and when I graduated from high school, I was offered a job at the academy,” she said. “I love that I can combine my love for dance and teaching. I knew I could teach dance because I was the drill team captain last year, and it was my job to teach the team new performances every week. I enjoyed the process of teaching, so I knew I was pursuing the right career.”

Marks said the flexible program allows her to design her schedule with “me-time.”

“Mondays are my busiest day,” she said. “From 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. I am at Pine Forest (Elementary in Vidor) teaching, then I walk at the park with my mom to get fresh air and exercise. At 2 p.m. I am at the dance studio. From 5 to 6 p.m. I attend Bible study, then go home to work on my homework.”

Marks is part of the first group of students participating in a co-enrollment partnership between the Vidor Independent School District, Lamar State College Orange and Lamar University.

Lamar University President Dr. Jaime Taylor, Vidor ISD Superintendent Dr. Jay Killgo and Lamar State College Orange President Dr. Tom Johnson came together this week to celebrate an education program tackling local teacher shortages and boosting options for paraprofessionals. (Sierra Kondos/Special to The Leader)

Program leaders met Tuesday to celebrate an effort aimed at bridging the gap for paraprofessionals eager to further their education.

The first cohort, made up of Vidor and Newton ISD employees, began their Lamar State College Orange courses in the Fall and are scheduled to take their first Lamar University co-enrolled course in the summer.

This allows them to obtain a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.

“I graduated last May and I began working as a third grade paraprofessional at Pine Forest Elementary school last August,” said Aaron Wright, 19, a Vidor native. “I am currently attending LSCO but will be transitioning to Lamar University to complete my degree.”

Wright juggles two jobs to pay bills and tuition as well as attending classes.

“I love how flexible the online and hybrid university courses are so that I can still pay bills without missing classes,” he said. “My day begins at 7 a.m. at the elementary and I work half a day, then I head to LSCO for my classes. Afterwards, I will go to my second job or work on my homework.”

The program allows the paraprofessionals to gain four years of experience, teacher retirement credits and relationships with students.

“We see the same students every day,” Wright said. “I think the challenging part of being a teacher is being able to create trusting relationships with the students. It’s important to me to create a safe place for students to feel safe to grow and learn and feel safe participating in class discussions and activities. In the past nine months, I’ve received a drawer full of memorabilia from students and it means a lot to me.”

Wright said that LSCO professors commute to the paraprofessional’s school location to teach them on site.

“This cuts out a lot of driving back and forth,” he said. “This program has made it possible for us to stay afloat financially while pursing our teaching degrees.”

Brooklyn Bushelle, 19, of Vidor likes that the experience provides insight into what his life would be like as a professional teacher, which and “that really sold me on the program.”

Through this program, a cohort of paraprofessionals employed by Vidor ISD enroll in Lamar State College Orange’s Associate of Arts in Teaching program with courses being taught at Vidor ISD.

Vidor Superintendent Dr. Jay Killgo said the collaborative effort provides a tremendous opportunity to recent graduates “to pursue a career in a field they love while working at Vidor ISD as instructional aides.

“We look forward to continuing to grow this program for our community and bringing the best and brightest into the field of education,” he said.

— Written by Sierra Kondos