A few years ago, José Grimaldo found himself at a crossroads when he lost his job as a welder at a factory in Illinois. With three children and a wife to support, what was he to do? Grimaldo, like many others who have found themselves jobless during the recent economic downturn, decided to go back to school.
Initially, he began working towards a degree to become a social worker. During one class project, he volunteered in a local school and found himself in a classroom with young students. There, Grimaldo realized how much he enjoyed working with children and applied for a position as a teacher assistant in a special education program. He worked in this capacity for several years until he began to yearn for his own classroom.
Grimaldo soon decided to abandon his plans to become a social worker, and he enrolled at Illinois State University to study for a bachelor’s degree in education. However, much to Grimaldo’s dismay, he soon learned that most of the education courses were offered only during the day, which posed a problem since Grimaldo was working full-time and could only attend classes at night. Not one to give up easily, he discovered the Bilingual Paraprofessionals in Transition (BPT) program at Illinois State University and quickly enrolled.
The BPT program follows a grow-your-own model that recruits individuals already working in high-need schools as paraprofessionals or teacher assistants and enables them to take on-site course work and supervision leading to certification and/or endorsements in bilingual/English as a second language (ESL) education. The BPT program is funded by a National Professional Development (NPD) grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). NPD is the only federal grant program that targets professional development exclusively for education personnel who serve English learners.
NPD-funded projects provide participants with tuition assistance and a network of support while completing their program of study. To date, the NPD program has achieved tremendous outcomes with 6,828 pre-service teachers having completed programs that led to teaching credentials; 6,239 in-service teachers having completed programs that led to bilingual or ESL certification; 8,412 in-service teachers having completed professional programs that did not lead to bilingual or ESL certification; and 115 bilingual paraprofessionals having completed associates degree programs.
Since Illinois State’s first NPD grant in 2007, the university’s BPT program has graduated 57 paraprofessionals and all of them have gotten jobs as teachers. More will graduate in May.
The impact of the BPT program on the lives of students and teachers alike has been exceedingly positive, as Grimaldo can attest. Despite working long days as a teacher assistant and then staying after work to take classes, Grimaldo never once complained, said George Torres, director of the BPT program.
Grimaldo graduated cum laude in the spring of 2011 and now teaches bilingual special education at Foreman High School in Chicago. He credits his own struggle as an English learner (EL) with his ability to understand the challenges that ELs face in the classroom as well as in their community.
He said he feels that his choice to live within the same community where he teaches is important. He often sees his students while out doing errands, and his students see that his commitment to them extends beyond the classroom.
Grimaldo’s accomplishment is important, not only because he has found an important and rewarding profession, but because he is helping to solve one of our country’s biggest educational challenges: recruiting teachers who look and sound like our students. According to a 2008 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 22 percent of our nation’s students are Hispanic, while just over 7 percent of our teachers are.
Asked how his experience in the BPT program has affected him and his family’s life, Grimaldo said, “I feel that I am setting a good example for my children – Joanna (20), Joseph (18), and Jonathan (11). My wife, Ana, is also working toward a degree in this program. She will graduate this spring. Our children state that they feel proud of what we have and will continue to accomplish, and that we inspired them to continue their education.”
Earlier this week, ED announced the award of nearly $24.4 million for 73 grants to improve instruction for English learners. Click here to learn more.
Anthony Sepúlveda is an education program specialist in the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA)