U.S. secretary of education, visiting Iowa, discusses importance of teacher apprenticeships
Des Moines Area Community College student Jay McCord has been working as a paraeducator in the Perry Community School District for three years, and is taking advantage of the community college’s teacher pipeline program to further his education.
He and other Iowa educators got to share their experiences Thursday with the U.S. secretary of education in the hopes of eventually spreading the opportunities they’ve utilized through DMACC to schools and teachers across the country.
“Education was really something that was hard for me just because I needed an awful lot of extra help,” McCord said. “So this program really helped me with being in the classroom while taking those classes, and being able to connect my schoolwork to what I’m actually doing.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Iowa Thursday to hear from students, both in lower and higher education, and teachers about the triumphs and trials, and how programs like those implemented at DMACC open doors for those wanting to work as an educator.
After a tour and discussion at Perry Elementary, which was named a 2023 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, Cardona spoke to DMACC students, who also work as educators in Perry and other schools, about the community college program and the opportunities it has afforded them.
Each group emphasized that schools need more teachers to support students, and that programs like DMACC’s Teacher Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship program, housed at the DMACC Perry VanKirk Career Academy, are necessary to make earning an education degree more accessible.
“I heard it from college students and a college president, but earlier today, I heard it from second-graders,” Cardona said. “They said the same thing — we need to support teachers and we need more teachers. Seven-year-olds.”
He said the earn-and-learn program does just that. It allows anyone from high school students to adults to current paraeducators in the district to take classes and work at the same time, getting career experience while learning the curriculum that will eventually lead them to getting the degree to have a classroom of their own, if they wish.
Students get access to support from professors and mentors, and are able to offset costs with up to $7,000 provided for tuition and fees for up to two years. To qualify for the program through the Perry school district, students must be committed to remaining in the district for three years after graduation. Students also support each other, DMACC student Emilie Cross said, as they work and learn in the same cohorts.
“We feel like we have somebody to lean on,” Cross said.
One thing that McCord said would help the DMACC program is more exposure — if more students and educators learned about what the program offers, more would join, eventually swelling the workforce.
Just under 30 states have teaching apprenticeship programs like the one at DMACC, Cardona said, and he hopes to spread the idea systematically and ensure every state can create pipelines for potential teachers.
“What you’re doing over here is an example of what we want to replicate,” Cardona said. “I want to get to 50 (states), I want all of them.”