Cynthia Battle always wanted to become a teacher. But between the need to earn a living, and the high cost of college, Battle earned only a two-year associate’s degree, and then went to work as a paraprofessional (teacher’s aide) in Evanston/Skokie District 65.
“I wish I could have become a teacher,” Battle says, “but I just couldn’t afford it.”
Now, 22 years later,at age 58, her goal is finally in reach.
Battle is one of ten D65 paraprofessionals who have been accepted for the district’s teacher apprenticeship program, a chance for those with AA degrees to finish the two years still needed for a BA, get licensed, and become a teacher … with District 65 picking up the tab.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass by,” Battle says.
For District 65, the apprenticeship program is a chance to “grow their own” teachers in a time of shortage, as well as creating a more diverse applicant pool.
“Within our ranks,” says Assistant Superintendent Andalib Khelgati, “we have an untapped resource of mission-driven individuals.”
The apprenticeship is run through an education training platform called BloomBoard. Courses are all online, so the “paras,” as they often call themselves, can stay employed while finishing classwork on their own schedules.
There is, of course, on-the-job training as well.
While BloomBoard coordinates the program, the degrees are from one of two accredited programs, St. Louis University or Oklahoma Christian University.
District 65’s cost is $135,000. Federal funds are picking up year one. Should that money not be available next year, district officials are confident other grants can be found.
Demand among District 65 paraprofessionals was high. Thirty-two people applied for the 10 slots.
“There is a value in starting small,” Khelgati says.
“We want to grow successfully.”
The apprenticeship is similar in philosophy to another program instituted by Superitendent Devon Horton, the teacher residency.
Residency, which began in 2021-22, is for those who already have four-year degrees, but lack teaching credentials. Participants earn a master’s degree in one year while serving as a student teacher, and earning $30,000.
Those who complete residencies are then hired by the district.
There were some glitches in the first year, as only 12 of 19 participants finished. This year it’s been downsized to eight, with the colleges switched from Northwestern and National Louis to Chicago State.
Khelgati says District 65 learned some lessons from the residency program which will be applied for the paraprofessional teaching apprentices, such as more work with mentor teachers and coaches.
Battle, who works at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center with preschoolers, says one of those most excited for her is Jennifer Parent, the teacher she has partnered with in the classroom for the past 15 years.
“She’ll miss me when I become a teacher,” Battle says. “But she’s glad I’ve been given the chance.”
Battle, who also heads the paraprofessional workers union, says she “truly loves her job,” but being a teacher instead of an aide will let her help children even more.
Plus, the large pay raise won’t hurt either.
Orientation for the apprenticeship program is next month, followed by the start of online classes.
Cynthia Battle is proof that it’s never too late to follow your dream.
In theory, once she gets her four-year degreee and teaching certification she could leave District 65 and get a job somewhere else.
But that’s not going to happen.
“I’m going to stay at 65,” Battle says. “It’s where I plan to retire.”