Having quality educators teach the next generation in Kern County is becoming more and more crucial, but California's teacher shortage makes those professionals hard to come by at times.
Three contributing factors causing the teacher shortage both statewide and locally include an increase in student enrollment, a decrease in the number of teacher candidates enrolled in teacher preparation credential programs and attrition through retirement numbers have increased, said Tania Schalburg-Dykes, coordinator II for the Kern County Superintendent of School's Teacher Development Program.
Paraprofessionals — better known as classroom aides and after school assistants — are increasingly sought after in local classrooms as well. Rural areas have been hit the hardest in recent years, so Bakersfield College decided to reach out to those areas in order to provide them quality aides and future teachers.
The college launched its education department in January equipped with an elementary teacher education transfer degree program. Part of the college's Finish in Four agreement with Cal State Bakersfield, students are on a "fast track" to complete two years at BC and two years at CSUB. BC students can complete required observation hours at multiple city and county rural school sites.
Sometimes that fast track doesn't fit everyone's schedules, especially if they have a family to take care and can't quit their jobs to attend school full-time. As a result, BC is developing a paraprofessional to teacher associate's degree that will include four levels of stackable paraprofessional certificates, explained Kimberly Bligh, education department chair.
"All these certificates are stackable, and as they get them, they get units and they can gain employment," Bligh said. "These are designed for people in high school or people already out there in those positions but need to move up. We just want to keep bringing them in until they get to the bachelor’s degree."
BC rolled out the first courses for the certificate program this fall at Bakersfield, McFarland and West high schools and also opened classes to the public. The first certificate awards are planned for next summer.
Classes are available at night at BC's various campuses and online, convenient for working individuals, and to anyone in California.
"I interviewed after-school aides at Grimmway (Academy) and asked 'Where are you in your education?' and they were all over the map, but what they all held in common is they were stuck in their job and there was no mobility," Bligh said. "We want them to keep moving up but there was no way to because they’re working full-time, so this will help them go to school at night or go to school locally."
There are currently seven course offerings divided into different levels. As students complete a certain number of classes per level, they are awarded a certificate which carries college credit units.
Courses offered include roles and responsibilities of the paraprofessional, learning in math and science, sociocultural, educational technology and literacy foundations and introduction to classroom teaching. Students can also get credit for working or having an internship as a paraprofessional.
Courses focused on special populations are also in the works, considering that many paraprofessionals assist children with learning disabilities.
Michael Vogenthaler, director of college and career initiatives with KCSOS, thinks this program is a game changer. Those working in classrooms have an opportunity to advance, but also high schoolers gain experience and start their college education early, which will positively affect their time in classrooms, especially those working with children with learning disabilities.
"They have an opportunity to come in the workplace ready, as opposed to not even knowing what learning disabilities mean, and not only that but being able to engage with a student who has these learning disabilities," he explained.
Often times, schools have someone fairly "green" come in who hasn't had prior experience working with special education students, Vogenthaler explained. "The whole idea of providing support to students with learning disabilities is getting them to understand the disability they have, how they learn with that disability, how to deal with behavior outcomes — that training never happens," he added, "until now."
The program has partnered with 12 schools districts throughout Kern County, and Bligh hopes to see that number increase in coming semesters. She also hopes the program and department lead to BC feeding local districts with qualified employees and teachers, helping reduce the number of vacancies currently out there.
"If they’re walking in to a job interview with a certificate versus one without anything, they’re going to nail it. They’re going to have that job," Bligh said.
To learn more about BC's education department, visit https://www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/education.