Schools look to aides to become teachers via new state scholarship
FARMINGTON — The state last year offered scholarships to help experienced classroom aides and assistants become teachers, leading a teacher’s aide in a special education classroom at Bluffview Elementary School to take the challenge.
Now Maggie Vicenti is on her way to becoming a teacher through the Grow Your Own Teachers Act, signed into law in April 2019 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the state's teacher shortage.
The act created a scholarship fund to provide $6,000 a year for teacher’s aides and educational assistants who have worked as aides or assistants for at least two years to go back to school to become fully licensed educators in the state of New Mexico.
Vicenti said she noticed a shortage of teaching staff while working in the classroom and jumped at the chance to help solve the problem by becoming a full-time, credentialed special education teacher.
“There’s such a huge shortage of special ed teachers. It’s hard to find someone to do those jobs,” Vicenti said, “but I have a lot of experience with special ed. I know the kids. It’s kind of my passion.”
Vicenti spent a year as a teacher’s aide at Bluffview Elementary School, and a prior year as a long-term substitute in a special education classroom at Bluffview, which Vicenti describes as a job that gave her a lot of hands-on experience in teaching, coming up with lesson plans and classroom management.
After receiving the scholarship, Vicenti now takes teacher education classes full time through Grand Canyon University’s online program, while she concurrently works full time at Apache Elementary School in Farmington.
Vicenti hopes to eventually get a master’s degree in education.
“Stepping into [teaching] with experience as an aide is a lot easier because you know what to expect,” Vicenti said, “and I love it… this is my career now.”
A growing shortage
Across the country, school districts, and students, are experiencing a growing teacher shortage crisis.
A report from New Mexico State University entitled “2019 New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report” found that there were 644 teacher vacancies in schools across the state in the 2018-2019 school year.
The Grow Your Own Teachers Act is part of the governor’s attempt to mitigate the crisis.
She signed a suite of bills and acts in 2019 that have raised public school teacher salaries and increased funding for public education, along with another program, the Teacher Preparation Affordability Act, which sets aside state funds for students studying education who want to become teachers, especially bilingual and Native students.
The “2019 New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report” found that the most vacancies in teaching were in elementary teaching positions. The second-largest number of vacancies was in special education teaching positions across all grade levels.
Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or via email at email@example.com.
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