Sunday, April 07, 2013
An innovative adult education class trains immigrants to become paraprofessionals so they can help kids learn English.
Maryan Ali always knew she wanted to work in a school and help her
community, but she didn’t know how to get her foot in the door.
So when she heard about a class offered through Adult
Basic Education (ABE) in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District
that aimed to prepare bilingual adults to become paraprofessionals in
K-12 schools, she was instantly interested.
“When someone told me about this class for people like
me, for immigrants, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! They knew what I was
thinking!’ I knew I had to take it,” said Ali.
Ali enrolled in the 12-week Paraprofessional Prep class
last fall for advanced ELL (English language learner) students. This
winter she passed the paraprofessional exam, and next week, she will
begin working as a bilingual educational assistant in the district,
working directly with students, especially kids whose first language is
Somali.“I’m just excited about the whole process,” said Ali, who left
Somalia in 1999. “I want to work with kids and communities for the long
The free class, likely the only one of its kind in
Minnesota, not only provides a way for adult ELL students to enter the
education profession, it also provides the district with a diverse pool
of K-12 paraprofessionals, said Kathy Funston, district curriculum
Funston said she was “incredibly happy” to hire Ali and another graduate of the class.
“In our district ... we have a growing bilingual
community. We needed a way to make the content in the mainstream
classroom accessible for our English language learners,” Funston said.
About a quarter of the district’s students are English
language learners, Funston estimated, and the two largest groups are
Spanish and Somali speakers. The bilingual educational assistants will
act as student advocates and bridge cultural gaps, in addition to
helping with academic skills.
Kevin Avise, program manager of District 191’s school for
adults, said the class meets both his program’s goals and those of the
At the K-12 level, the district’s student body is very
diverse, “but we felt like all the people who were standing in front of
the students, helping them, looked and sounded the same,” Avise said.
He also saw many adult students who were interested in education careers.
“This gives us the chance to turn something that for our
students was a deficit — needing to learn a new language — into a market
advantage,” Avise said.
After Avise and the district agreed there was a need,
Avise turned to ABE instructor Stephen Hunt to write the
Paraprofessional Prep curriculum.
He developed teaching materials using the
paraprofessional exam and also referenced national and state
In addition to teaching subject matter and vocabulary,
Hunt “used scenarios to try to make it authentic in terms of what they’d
face in schools. We also had several class visits to local elementary
and middle schools,” he said.
Ali said that although she’s involved in her three children’s education, she still learned “inside information” about schools.
Anisa Amin of Bloomington took the class this winter and
found the lessons on behavioral management especially useful. She also
learned how to read aloud to a group and how to teach math, she said.
“It’s a very good, essential program — and Somalian
children can benefit, too,” said Amin, who came here from Somalia a
decade ago. “When someone’s from your country, knows your language, you
become a little bit more comfortable.”
Hunt said the response from students and the district has
been very positive. With fall and winter sessions under his belt, he’s
seen about two dozen students complete the class.
“I think the students really appreciate a step into a
more professional type of job rather than working assembly or at a
restaurant,” Hunt said.
Hunt was pleased that seven of the nine students from the
fall class who took the paraprofessional exam passed it. He is already
planning for next fall’s class, which has five students on the waiting
list. Recently, another ABE program contacted him to ask about
replicating the class, he said.