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Manatee County, USF partnership helps paraprofessionals become teachers

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The School District of Manatee County has partnered with the University of South Florida to help 60 paraprofessionals become teachers. 

The district and USF received a five-year federal grant through the Office of English Language Acquisition through the Department of Education to create Project Parasol. The grant provides funding to send 60 English for Speakers of Other Languages paraprofessionals to USF to receive their bachelor's degrees in education.

Fabiola Cruz, an English for Speakers of Other Languages and dual language paraprofessional at Braden River Elementary School, works with Braxxton Garcia-Pineda and Stacy Copeland.
Courtesy image

USF is the fiscal agent of the $3.5 million grant and program, so the district does not have a financial stake in it.

The district has approximately 104 ESOL paraprofessionals helping to serve the more than 7,300 English language students in the district.

Debra Estes, the director of ESOL, migrant and dual-language programs for the district, said the grant will be a “win-win” for the students, paraprofessionals and the district.

She said students will be supported and taught by people already invested in their success, paraprofessionals will be able to become teachers and earn a higher salary, and the district will have another way of addressing the teacher shortage.

If they choose to participate in Project Parasol, the paraprofessionals will become first-year classroom teachers upon graduation and receive a starting pay of $55,177 with the School District of Manatee County. The starting salary for a paraprofessional is approximately $15 per hour, which Estes said totals to be approximately $22,000 per year. 

“By hiring our ESOL paraprofessionals and getting them to graduate and become teachers, children have the opportunity to see people who look like them and sound like them. Maybe one day (these people) will get promoted to assistant principals and principals or district level positions,” Estes said. 

ESOL paraprofessionals who already have an associate degree will be eligible to participate in Project Parasol. 

They will attend classes at USF in the evening or during the weekends so they can continue to work as paraprofessionals during the week.

Upon graduation from USF, they will have an elementary education degree and a reading endorsement. 

Estes said although the ESOL paraprofessionals will be able to teach in any classroom, a benefit of having a teacher who can speak Spanish and English will be having more teachers available for the dual language programs throughout the district. 

Braden River and Myakka City elementary schools have dual language programs in East County. 

The district hopes to expand the dual language program to the middle school level as the current students in the program make their way through elementary school and onto middle school.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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