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Investing in Staff Cultivates New Educators

Summer Hospodka teaches kindergarten virtually from her classroom

Summer Hospodka has supported students in Omaha Public Schools’ classrooms for nearly three years, but the 2020-21 school year brings an exciting new chapter as a teacher. The Chandler View Elementary kindergarten educator credits the Para to Teacher Career Ladder Program for getting her there.

Hospodka first learned of the program from Principal Elizabeth Holland at Pawnee Elementary when she interviewed to become a paraprofessional. She had already earned a scholarship to another college, but what she heard about the Para to Teacher program prompted her to reconsider her future.

“Everyone spoke so highly of it, so I decided to … apply for the para to educator program and cross my fingers and toes and hope that I got in,” Hospodka said.   

Omaha Public Schools and area universities created the accelerated program to help district paraprofessionals earn a K-8 endorsement and start a teaching career. The district covers the cost for paras who work in district schools and continue their employment for at least three years after graduation. Flexible class times allow aspiring teachers to balance home, work and school.

For Hospodka, the courses she took through Midland University helped build on the skills she learned as a para. 

“Classroom management is a huge one,” she said. “As a para, you do some things, but learning through the courses at Midland just how to set up your classroom and do the behind the scenes type things that maybe as a para you don’t get to see. Having that helped bring it all full circle.”

Hospodka’s class of 20 varied in age and experience and included attendees from across the district. Having a diverse group helped enhance skills they had already learned working as paras in the classroom. 

“You could bounce so many different ideas off of other people through different buildings and different grades, so you were always learning and collaborating,” she said. “If you were at a traditional school and not working as a para, just going to school, you don’t have the same experiences.” 

Though Hospodka had plenty of classroom experience, the program helped her become more confident stepping into a new role. 

“The nice thing is I have my para school, I have my student teaching school … and now, having a new school that I’m working at, I have so many avenues and resources to get help,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things about the para to teacher program. You just have so much help and people rooting for you. That’s a huge plus.”

Hospodka encourages others in the district to follow her path. After completing the program, graduates are eligible for a Nebraska teaching certificate and program graduates who work in Omaha Public Schools are guaranteed an interview for a classroom position.

“Don’t let age be a factor – it’s never too late to chase your dreams,” she said. “We had a variety from 21 years old all the way up to 60 years old in our program. If you want to be a teacher, if you have that passion for kids, just do it. Take that chance. Take that leap because being able to collaborate with other paras and then have your dream job is pretty amazing.”

Applications will open later this semester. District paraprofessionals interested in the program can reach out to LaTasha Muhammad, Staff Development Coordinator at latasha.muhammad@ops.org for more information.

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