Skip to comments.Law makes AA degree a must for class aides (CA)
Posted on 06/09/2003 3:08:48 AM PDT by chance33_98
Law makes AA degree a must for class aides
By MARIA T. GARCIA THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Veteran classroom aide Audrey Acuna planned on returning to school one day.
But the mother's dream of earning a college degree became urgent when she found out her classroom aide job at Colton's McKinley Elementary School depended on it.
Like Acuna, thousands of teacher assistants in the Inland area and across California are returning to school, driven by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The sweeping law put new requirements on instructional assistants who work at schools receiving special federal money to help low-income students. They must complete two years of college, earn an associate's degree or pass a rigorous test set by the state or local school district.
Classroom assistants hired before the law went into effect in January 2002, such as Acuna, have until January 2006 to meet the requirement. Aides applying for jobs since then must meet the federal criteria before getting hired. As with other parts of the law, school districts that don't comply risk losing federal money.
Acuna, an instructional assistant for two decades, enrolled at San Bernardino Valley College, where she takes weekend classes so she can earn an associate's degree before the deadline.
"I wanted to do this for a long time," Acuna said. "But No Child Left Behind gave me the push I needed. It was an ultimatum."
Aides handle a variety of duties, including managing the classroom, leading small reading groups and helping students who are learning English or who are in special education.
Coping with the law
The law's mandates stretch beyond the qualifications of classroom aides.
President Bush's school reform law calls for tougher teacher standards and increased school accountability. It also lays out penalties for schools in which students fail to meet academic benchmarks. The mandates aim to close the achievement gap faced between disadvantaged and minority students and others.
Some school districts, such as the Riverside-based Alvord Unified School District, are making plans to deal with the law.
Alvord officials anticipated the need for convenient, evening courses and last fall offered a college-credit class for aides. The course, held at La Granada Elementary, was offered through a partnership with Riverside Community College, said Ola Jackson, associate dean in the college's teacher preparation and education program.
The college is developing a paraprofessional certificate to help aides meet the No Child Left Behind requirement.
"The community will see that their children will be better served by having trained paraprofessionals in the classroom," Jackson said by phone.
That was the law's intent, Penni Hansen, a consultant in the California Department of Education's professional development office, said by phone.
Up to 50,000 of the state's 100,000 classroom aides must meet the requirements, Hansen said.
There are other ways to meet the requirement besides earning an associate's degree. Aides also can show they have the skills to help students by taking a test in reading, writing and math. Such a test has not yet been adopted.
Most California aides in the affected schools are expected to opt for the test, Hansen said.
Among them is Felicitas Urena, a Colton mother who at 48 said she has no intention of going to college.
"What about the 16 years I've been doing this?" the bilingual aide in the Colton Joint Unified School District said by phone. "That should be enough."
The Riverside Unified School District plans to offer online tutorials this fall for aides who have worked in the classroom for years but may need help preparing for the exam, said Glenn King, assistant superintendent of human resources.
Nearly 100 instructional assistants in Riverside Unified will have to meet the No Child Left Behind requirement, King said.
An important job
In Colton, McKinley Elementary School Principal Yolanda Cabrera said qualified aides are vital in helping teachers, especially in schools where a majority of children live in poverty. These schools receive federal money known as Title I funds. Title I is the federal law that provides financial support to schools with large numbers of poor students. California has 4,937 Title I schools.
During her years as a teacher, Cabrera worked with some aides who were learning right along with the students they were supposed to be helping.
"I couldn't expect them to do any thinking on their own," Cabrera said. "It was like having one more kindergartner or fifth-grader."
Cabrera encourages classroom assistants at McKinley to take college courses and strive to become teachers.
They might as well, said Reynaldo Baca, a professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. Baca oversees the National Clearinghouse for Paraeducator Resources, where aides can get information about their profession.
"I generally tell people not to get an AA degree," Baca said. "I want them to focus on getting a bachelor's and to aim to become teachers."
Reach Maria T. Garcia at (909) 368-9455 or email@example.com
Back To School
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that classroom aides at schools receiving federal money to serve low-income students meet at least one of the following requirements:
Complete at least two years of college.
Earn an associate's degree
Pass a rigorous exam in writing, reading and math.
I know I just hate it when my foot goes flying into my open mouth. I've made some series, hugh mistakes, too.
My fingers were traveling the keyboard ahead of mind! Thanks for taking it easy on me.