Ensuring school aides meet new standards

City school district
creating training program for paraprofessionalsCorrespondent

By elizabeth welch

City school district
creating training program for paraprofessionals

LONG BRANCH — The city’s school district has taken the lead in providing paraprofessionals with what they will need to retain and advance in their careers.

In two years paraprofessionals, or classroom aides, will have to meet new, higher standards set by the federal government in the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001.

To ensure that its 125 paraprofessionals meet these standards, the district has initiated a free training program to help them obtain an associate’s degree and pass the test that will be a minimum requirement for the job by 2005.

"We are encouraging our staff to acquire their college degree and are offering classes where they can earn credits," said Superintendent of Schools Joseph M. Ferraina.

In September the district will be providing the free college classes at the Middle School, using instructors from Brookdale Community College, Middletown.

According to Ferraina, the district is able to provide the necessary courses to its paraprofessionals at no charge because it will be renting the space where the courses will be taught to Brookdale for roughly the same amount it will pay for the courses the paraprofessionals are taking.

The outcome is free classes that the paraprofessionals can use as credits for their associate’s degree and that prepare them for the test to be certified for their positions.

In addition to offering the necessary courses, the district is now one of the few testing sites in the state approved by Educational Testing Service, Princeton, which created and will administer the exam.

Before the district was designated as a testing site, the nearest approved site was in Newark, roughly 45 minutes away.

"This created a burden on our employees and added extra anxiety," Ferraina said. "We contacted ETS and requested to be considered a testing facility."

According to Ferraina, "Paraprofessionals provide a much-needed service in our classrooms. It is our responsibility to provide the best education for our students, and that means having the best possible staff."

Ferraina also suggested that he hopes many of the paraprofessionals will flourish and become teachers them­selves.

"It’s a great way for our paraprofes­sionals to further their education and earn more," he said.

The duties of a paraprofessional in­clude helping with the children and their activities under the supervision of a teacher.

"We started using paraprofessionals long before the No Child Left Behind mandate," Ferraina said. "We had a shortage of substitute teachers and found that the paraprofessionals were capable of performing those duties."