A Warrenton High School alumna is among the first to graduate from Missouri State University's Pathways for Paras program and became a teacher in Warren County R-III school district.
Warrenton High School graduate Brianna Franz recently took over her first grade classroom at Rebecca Boone Elementary School after completing the Pathway for Paras program.
Franz is the first Warren County R-III employee to complete the program, which offers an opportunity for paraprofessionals in the district to become certified as teachers. Franz, who originally got her degree in criminal justice, was in her sixth year working as a paraprofessional in the district before earning her masters degree.
“The program is for Sped (Special Education),” Franz said. “But I knew that I wanted to transfer into the general education classroom. So I actually wanted to do kindergarten or first. So it actually was fantastic that this position came available and I was able to slide right in with the school that’s where I wanted to be.”
The Pathway for Paras program is a partnership the district has with Missouri State University. An individual is required to have 60 credit hours to become a paraprofessional, Warren County R-III Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brad Ross said. The program assists employees with getting their bachelors and masters degrees. Through the program, the paraprofessionals take all the classes needed to finish the bachelors degree program or they enroll in the masters program.
Ross said one of the benefits of the program is teachers in the district are authorized to teach certain classes for the program.
“Normally in a traditional setting, they would have virtual classes that they take while they work,” Ross said. “What the Pathway for Paras program allows is for us to provide a professor. One of our staff. There are certain classes that they allow us to teach. And so, they go through the semester with our staff. Our staff teaches them about the education class that they’re in at the time, prepares them for the final grade. It’s either a project or a test that varies by class.”
Franz said one of the benefits she experienced from the program is being able to student teach while retaining her employment with the district.
“The best thing that this program offers is you do not have to quit your job to student teach,” Franz said. “You still have to student teach. But everywhere else, most likely, you would have to quit. Even as a para, even though you’re doing that job, that you’re going to school for, you would have to quit and then not get paid for your student teaching, which I was still able to do all of my student teaching and still get paid for it. And I didn’t have to quit my job.”
Franz did highlight some challenges with the program, particularly with communication among advisors at Missouri State. She also noted there were some costs she incurred for the program.
“There was several times where I thought that it would probably be easier to do a different program or just go through a school to get my master’s and not do the pathway program,” Franz said. “There was several times but I was so far in and I actually even brought that up to Missouri State, too. And I was so far in and everybody said, you know, I’m almost done. And so I went ahead to continue.”
Ross said there are about three to four employees per cohort who are enrolled in the program, at varying stages. The program has been around for about three years.
Franz and Ross both think a paraprofessional’s experience in the classroom can help them in their transition to being a classroom teacher.
“What helped me get ready for the classroom was being in the classroom every day as a para,” Franz said. “Working with special education students. Because, I mean, no matter what, you’re going to see any student. And so it also helps because some don't have the background instead where for me, I’ve been in that position for this was my sixth year in the district in the autism room. And so it definitely helped. And that is just that right there is basically how I learned more and how or what got me prepared to be in the classroom.”