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Pathways to Teaching program partners with Sunnyside School District

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The College of Education will house a new Master's of Arts in Education Policy. The Arizona Board of Regents approved three new majors and two new graduate programs for the University of Arizona. 

The University of Arizona College of Education is creating a new teaching certificate called the Pathways to Teaching program. The program is a partnership with the Sunnyside Unified School District to educate people connected to the district. Those people will become certified K-8 teachers working in the Sunnyside school district.

“The great thing with this program is that these candidates are already connected to the district; they live there, they work there, they have graduated from there and/or they have children that are also attending Sunnyside schools, so they are already invested in the community,” said Maria Orozco, a professor at the College of Education. “They would fill in the teacher vacancies and/or they would have an opportunity to interview and fill those teacher vacancies upon completion of the program.”

The program is for people who want to teach in grades K-8 but don’t have the money or the time for a regular undergraduate program at the UA. The candidates must be connected to SUSD in some way, whether they are a parent of somebody in the school district or an alumnus of the schools.

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Those eligible must also have an associate degree in elementary education and also have a GPA of a 2.5 or better. Students in the program must maintain a GPA of 3.0 to participate.

The students involved in the program will also have a monthly stipend of $1000 to cover the cost of living expenses. The tuition will be covered by the program so students will not have to pay their way through college.

The program lasts 17 months as opposed the two years it takes to be certified at UA’s regular program. Those in the program will have three days set aside each week for hands-on learning and student teaching in a school and will have a mentor coaching them on the side. At the end of the program, they will earn their undergraduate in elementary education with a teaching certificate for grades K-8.

Students in the program will move in groups through their classes, relying on one another for class projects and creating a sense of community. Orozco said it’s important for teachers in the field.

Orozco is one of the individuals that brought the program to life. Before working as a professor, she was a teacher in elementary education. 

The program will start in January of 2020 and there are nine students that will be starting with the program. 

In the fall of 2020, two students will be nominated from the program as Teachers of Record and will be on an emergency substitute certificate. In spring of 2021, one of the candidates will be placed in a classroom that has a teacher vacancy. They will have the support of a mentor teacher but will also have their own class to teach.

The state claims there is a lack of qualified elementary teachers, which is why programs like these are so vital to Arizona public schools.

“I think what we are doing is providing a pathway for candidates who might not have had this way to get to the university,” Orozco said. “For some students, or for some of the candidates, it’s the financial piece of it … We have eliminated the worry of tuition cost and this program is also providing them that monthly cost of living.”

The program is the brainchild of Marcy Wood, professor in the College of Education and director of Pathways to Teaching. Wood was also once a teacher in elementary education who decided to use her skills for the purpose of educating prospective teachers. She experienced something she thought was like the program in Albuquerque, N.M. several years ago.

“I just felt like it was a perfect program, because I was in a classroom servicing a need while learning to teach and getting paid to do it so that I walked out of my teachers certificate with very little debt, and that just seemed like that’s what we should be doing,” Wood said. “There are a whole bunch of people that we know will be fabulous teachers that can’t become teachers because the financial constraints and the time constraints get in the way, and I just think that’s problematic. This is a mechanism to work around that.” 

Wood said she believes this model is the future of teacher preparation programs throughout Arizona. Wood has been working on this program since 2008 and has been pushing it since she has started at UA. She was given the opportunity to bring Orozco in on the process in January.

Wood said she believes it has taken a while to get started because it is such a different concept of teaching. She had to convince and explain her experience to many people to get the program started. 

Kayla Minjares is one of the students that will be involved in the program January 2020 and learned about the program while attending Pima Community College. Minjares attended Sunnyside schools her entire childhood.

“I want to become a teacher,” Minjares said. “I know a lot of people talk negatively towards public schools, but I grew up with good teachers ... I wanted to be making a difference to other students.” 

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Minjares said public schools have a bad reputation because there are too many kids in the classroom and the lack of funding causes teachers to go out of their way to get necessary resources. Minjares said she believes that programs like these will make teachers feel more appreciated in the classroom.


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