SCC Press Release

SCC Collaborates with Area Agencies to Offer Para Educator Certification

Starting in February, area teachers’ aids and individuals interested in working in education will have an opportunity to earn certification as a Para Educator thanks to a new collaboration between Southeastern Community College, the Great Prairie Area Education Agency (AEA) and IowaWORKS. The certificate training consists of three separate classes worth a total of six hours of college credit. Classes are a hybrid of in-class hours and online coursework.

IowaWORKS Regional Director Deb Dowell says that some school districts have difficulty finding qualified instructors to teach the class, and that bringing in specialized instructors can be costly. Both issues limit how frequently the certification can be offered.

“School district representatives have expressed their need for more qualified para educators, and Iowa labor market statistics tell the same story,” Deb explains.

Deb says that the collaboration made perfect sense. “When the superintendents brought this to our attention, we looked to see what we could do to address it. We approached SCC and the AEA to put a program together.  All of the pieces of the puzzle were there – we just put it together.”

SCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. David Schachtsiek says that while many community colleges offer para educator classes in a face-to-face format, this program will be more flexible. “We will offer the courses as hybrids so they’ll be easier to attend. We anticipate that most people who will take them already have jobs. Instead of requiring students to sit in a classroom at one night a week over the course of an entire semester, we will offer portions online. That means that they can do some of the work on their own schedules without having to be in class so much – it’s just more convenient.”

With campuses and centers throughout the district, SCC also plans to take the class on the road.

“We can move the course around to suit demand. We can offer it in, say, Keokuk and if we get a lot of interest from the Mount Pleasant area, we can offer a section there in the future– we’re not tied to a single location.”

Katie Gavin, GPAEA Coordinator of Media and Professional Development, says that school districts almost always favor filling slots with applicants who are certified para educators over those who aren’t.

“This is something they want their para educators to possess – especially new hires.”

Katie estimates that there are hundreds of para educators throughout schools in southeast Iowa, half of whom hold certificates.

“Iowa doesn’t currently require mandatory certification for para educators. However schools that receive Title I funding or that participate in the statewide preschool program require para educators to be certified or hold a college degree.”

Currently employed uncertified teachers’ aids will find the para educators courses beneficial. The curriculum contains modules that they can use to further enhance their effectiveness in the classroom, including lessons in reading, math and writing, understanding individualized education accommodations, and building relationships with students and teachers. 

Obtaining certification is actually quite affordable. Cost for the program is $600.The certification exam and mandatory criminal background check cost an additional $105.

Displaced workers or those who meet certain income guidelines may even qualify free tuition.

Dr. Schachtsiek adds that since the certificate courses qualify for college credit, participants can also bundle them with other college classes and become eligible for financial aid.

Katie continues that the para educator certificate opens doors for further advancement as well.

“Individuals who complete the para educator classes can then earn advanced certifications in other areas of education, including special needs education, early childhood education, and library and media resources. We’re also adding English Language Learner and transition education classes as well. Plus, certified para educators could qualify to become substitute teachers.”

Dr. Schachtsiek adds that the Para Educator certification courses could also become a springboard for those wanting to enter SCC’s new Elementary Education program that starts in the Fall of 2013.

Iowa job projections show the need for para educators will increase nearly 10% over the next five years. Nationally, that number increases to 20%. The current income figures for para educators in Iowa range from $16,500 to $29,000.

Certification improves employability and job security according to Deb.

“There’s a lot of employee turnover with teacher aids, and seasoned aids continue to retire. School districts also offer higher wages for certified para educators. If you’re interested in working in education, it’s a good investment.”

So what exactly does a para educator do?

Katie explains that para educators work in the classroom and support student learning by working with individual students or small groups under the direction of a teacher. They help with classroom management and help provide assistance for students with special psychological, physical, emotional needs.

The next para educator certificate program starts on February 6. Classes are Wednesday nights 4:00 to 8:30pm at the Burlington GPAEA offices.  All courses have an online computer component. Participants must have e-mail, internet and computer access to complete the program.

To register or to learn more, contact the Great Prairie AEA at (319) 753-6561.

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