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Helping school districts meet new standards
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillKay Cha is busy. By day, he works at a local high school helping some 45 mostly Asian students. He guides them in their studies and helps them learn to be leaders and mentors. He also works with their parents. By night, he goes to classes at PCC.Cha and a number of other educational assistants at Portland Public Schools are earning their associate’s degrees through PCC while working full time.He’s not getting much sleep but says the opportunity to go back to school through a federally funded grant is too good to pass up."I’m killing myself," joked Cha. "I dont go to sleep until I finish my studies for the night."Federal mandate brings training opportunityFor the last five years, Cha has been an educational assistant in the multicultural center at Roosevelt High School. If all goes by plan, he will have his associate’s degree in 2006. He is taking advantage of the Portland Paraeducator Opportunity Program (PPOP), a partnership that brings Portland Public Schools and PCC together. The college scored a five-year, $745,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education last summer to help this group of educational assistants (also referred to as teacher aides) in Portland Public Schools (PPS) get their associates degrees. Funded through the No Child Left Behind Act, the grant will help them get the training they need by 2006, the required deadline for an associate’s degree or equivalent certification. The initiative is set up to help fill critical shortages of qualified bilingual educational assistants who work with English language learners. The PPOP effort builds on a similar successful training project. In 2002, the college earned a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the Department of Ed to fund the program Raising the Educational Achievement of Paraprofessionals (REAP), targeting educational assistants in the Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin, Hillsboro and Forest Grove School districts."My job is to make sure the students are where they are supposed to be in their work and that their attendance is improving," said Cha. He also works with individual students and guides them in planning special events and projects and learning the necessary skills to mentor other students.Classes at Cascade Campus pave a path Cha takes classes at the Cascade Campus, working on general education requirements. He also learns strategies to teach ESL or help students with disabilities. Sonia Moore, with Madison High School, is also getting her associate’s degree and taking classes at Cascade. The wide-grinning Peruvian has been an educational assistant at Madison for the past 16 years. Her days are full, working seven periods helping ESL students understand the language of textbooks and helping interpret directions from the teacher. She also serves as a translator between the school and the parents."I have been taking classes at PCC-Cascade on and off for 12 years, but haven’t completed the requirements. I’ve always wanted to get a two-year degree and now I can, thanks to this program."Site visitsPCC instructors go on site at their respective schools to observe education assistants in the workplace and give them feedback on their work. PCC is currently working with 25 high school and middle schools in the Portland Public Schools district. "Students like Cha are the glue for the school," said Tanya Mead, an instructor in the PPOP project.Mead was excited when she learned the college had received the grant. "I was a paraeducator myself and I know how hard it can be. It is a challenging job and they don’t always have the resources and training they need," she said.Cha, for one, is pleased with the opportunity. "PCC has been very helpful with my education," he said. "The program is paying for my education. I’m not going to waste the time. This has been a good experience."####Migrant Head Start teachers get boost The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Portland Community College a five-year, $748,973 grant to provide education and training to Hispanic Head Start teachers who have limited-English proficiency and who work with substantial numbers of Spanish-speaking children. The training began Oct. 1.Project Adelante Maestros (Go Forward Teachers), will assist 145 Head Start teachers by building their English skills and helping them achieve the new requirements for an associate’s degree in early childhood education. In addition, the grant will bring bilingual courses to 40 migrant Head Start teachers in rural areas through interactive distance learning technology. The grant also includes help for English-speaking Head Start teachers in attaining their associate’s degrees."PCC’s Hispanic Head Start teacher-training program has been exceptionally successful in meeting the needs of the community," said Paul Hill, interim Sylvania Campus president. "We are very grateful for this federal grant that will allow us to continue that excellent work and strengthen our partnership with the community. It just shows that people working hard together, with the right resources, can do wonderful things."It will expand existing partnerships with the Oregon Child Development Coalition and the Community Action Organization of Washington County. It also creates new partnerships with Blue Mountain and Columbia Gorge Community Colleges. Sixty-five percent of the total project will be financed by federal grant funds.