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"It's like Disney magic": Rollins program turns paraprofessionals into teachers

Marybelle Doe is a recent graduate of the Pathways to Teaching program at Rollins College.
Danielle Prieur
Marybelle Doe is a recent graduate of the Pathways to Teaching program at Rollins College.

A special Pathways to Teaching program offered at Rollins College in partnership with Orange County Public Schools is making it easier for paraprofessionals to become fully accredited teachers.

The program offers a unique solution to a statewide teacher shortage.

Graduates of the program receive their Bachelor of Arts in elementary education or a Master of Arts in teaching from Rollins College.

Marybelle Doe who just completed the program and is now an intensive reading instructor at Cypress High School said it’s allowed her to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“So, I've had this dream ever since I was a young. I mean, I just, as far back as I can remember, because I'm now 49. So as far back as I can remember it."

But with the support she got from the program, she did just that.

Orange County Public School employees receive a $1,000 scholarship to complete the two-and-a-half year course, plus free textbooks and a laptop.

And classes are offered at night, something another recent graduate Natalie Delgado said was the deal breaker for her. Delgado is now a program assistant at Union Park Middle School.

“But I was eventually going to come to a point where I had to quit my job to complete an internship or a student teaching experience," said Delgado. "And that was really the big boulder in the road. Because financially, I was not going to be able to afford that."

With this inventive approach, the program has graduated 22 teachers including Marybelle, Natalie and their classmate Kelly Longstreet. Longstreet, who will be a third grade teacher, said stepping up to fill an open position in the district gives her a sense of purpose.

“For me. It was like that Disney World Magic," said Longstreet. "And I was just like, wow, this is where I'm supposed to be. And I just felt my prayers have been answered like this was God telling me, 'you do have a purpose here in Florida and, and this is it'.”

Marybelle Doe said sometimes words fail her when she tries to describe what being a teacher in OCPS, with her very own classroom feels like. This is only the beginning, as she plans to continue to pursue further teacher education.

"I want to cry now, thinking about every time I walk in that classroom. It just gives me goosebumps, because it's just so surreal to think that I'm the one who's leading. I'm manning, I'm navigating this boat," said Doe. "I'm navigating this classroom, and being able to create lesson plans. I mean even something that most might find tedious, I find joy and excitement with.”

Ahead of the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, there were some 5,837 job openings for teachers in Florida.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.
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