The Paraprofessional Academy

by Thalia Moshoyannis, Director

The Paraprofessional Academy was established in 1993 with the purpose of addressing chronic problems in retaining, training, and providing career advancement opportunities for New York City Board of Education (BOE) paraprofessionals and direct service workers employed by public and non-profit agencies serving children and adults with special needs. The project is located at The Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) which is part of The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York (CUNY). The goals of the Paraprofessional Academy are to: 1) develop and implement strategies for increasing the capacity of CUNY to meet the educational and career needs of paraprofessional worker-students; 2) strengthen partnerships of CUNY institutions with the BOE, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York State Department of Education (NYSDOE), the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (NYSOMR/DD), and non-profit provider agencies; and 3) serve as a locus for assistance to paraprofessionals to gain access to and make more effective use of CUNY services.

The two primary activities conducted by the Paraprofessional Academy are academic planning/career counseling and the coordination of a two-course continuing education sequence. The counseling services are available to all 16,800 BOE paraprofessionals. They can take advantage of individual, group, and telephone counseling as they deem appropriate. Workshops in career development and advancement are offered throughout the year as well.

The Paraprofessional Academy’s auxiliary activities include strengthening and expanding partnerships with city, state, and non-profit provider agencies, CUNY institutions, and unions such as the UFT. The Project Advisory Committee of the Paraprofessional Academy, which meets about four times a year, is comprised of individuals from CUNY community and senior colleges, the BOE, UFT, NYSDOE, NYSOMR/DD. The purpose of these meetings is to share ideas and concerns related to the educational and training needs of paraprofessionals, keep abreast of current changes in policy at the local and state level regarding paraprofessional and teacher certification requirements, and remain informed of new developments in the field that may be of interest to paraprofessionals. Over the years, the members of the Project Advisory Committee have worked collaboratively to provide the best possible programs to paraprofessionals.

The Paraprofessional Academy periodically conducts research and shares findings with members of the Project Advisory Committee and the Deans of CUNY teacher preparation programs. During the Spring of 1998, an extensive survey research project was conducted with paraprofessionals and teachers working in NYC public schools. The first two surveys were sent to paraprofessionals and dealt with roles and responsibilities in the classroom and barriers to education and training opportunities respectively. The third survey was sent to teachers and concerned the use of paraprofessionals in the classroom. The findings were reported to the members of the Project Advisory Committee in the Fall of 1998.

Career Training Program

The Career Training Program (CTP), which has been in existence since 1970, is part of a contractual agreement between the BOE and the UFT, allowing paraprofessionals to take up to 18 credits a year free of charge at 17 colleges of CUNY and 5 private colleges. Paraprofessionals are also eligible for salary increases and accompanying changes in title as they take courses and climb the career ladder. The incentive of a salary increase is in place to serve as a motivator to earn college credits.

Because paraprofessionals can choose from among 22 colleges, countless programs of study, and two types of student status (matriculated and non-matriculated), there exists much confusion regarding college study. Unfortunately, paraprofessionals do not always have easy access to counselors at the colleges in which they are taking courses. Many paraprofessionals opt to attend college as non-matriculated students (non-degree). This status does not provide for academic advisement and, because of this, many paraprofessionals take coursework that will ultimately count as elective credit if they decide to pursue a degree. The Paraprofessional Academy fills this academic planning/career counseling void by offering free counseling services to all paraprofessionals regardless of their matriculation status. Through a variety of vehicles including individual appointment, telephone counseling, and group workshops, worker-students are taught the connection between choosing a major and choosing a career. How a particular degree may be applied to the world of work is critical in helping the paraprofessional to choose coursework wisely. For paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers, the Academy provides them with up-to-date information from the NYSDOE regarding provisional and permanent certification requirements.

Many paraprofessionals enjoy their profession and intend on remaining paraprofessionals. For them, the opportunity to receive salary increases and become highly skilled in their chosen occupation exists at the community colleges of CUNY. There they can major in Early Childhood/Day Care or receive an Education Associate degree. It should be noted that obtaining an Education Associate degree is akin to obtaining an Associate degree in paraprofessionalism. It does not mean that a paraprofessional is halfway towards obtaining teacher certification, much as licensed practical nurses are not halfway towards becoming registered nurses upon completion of their training requirements. Should a paraprofessional who wishes to become a teacher find him- or herself at a community college, the best course of action would be to major in Liberal Arts as these courses are the most likely to be transferred easily to the four-year colleges of CUNY and count as fulfilling requirements in liberal arts. Due to a lack of articulation among the various colleges that comprise the CUNY system, students who choose to transfer among its schools often find that the coursework taken at one school will not meet requirements at another. Valuable time is lost when students need to make-up coursework. The counselors at the Academy are always searching for ways to inform students of this potential hazard during the transfer process.

Paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers are urged to begin study at a four-year college where they can fulfill all of their Liberal Arts and Science Area Requirements (LASAR) as well as requirements in their co-major of Education. The State of New York mandates that would-be teachers not only major in Education but co-major in another subject area.

Continuing Education

Not every paraprofessional intends to obtain a college degree. At present, New York State requires that all paraprofessionals possess a G.E.D. or a high school diploma when they are hired. Paraprofessionals then have one year from the date on which they were hired to complete six college credits, which the BOE will pay for. Paraprofessionals who do not meet the six credit minimum requirement before the first year anniversary of their date of hire are terminated.

After completing that requirement, many paraprofessionals opt not to continue with college study; however, they do welcome opportunities to take advantage of available training. Such opportunities include conferences, workshops, lectures, seminars, or continuing education courses. Paraprofessionals who are interested in expanding upon their classroom skills may take advantage of the Paraprofessional Development Continuing Education Program. It began in the Fall of 1995 and has enhanced the ability of over 1,800 paraprofessionals to more effectively support teachers in the classroom. Two courses (CE I and CE II) are offered at the following CUNY campuses: Lehman College (Bronx), York College (Queens), Medgar Evers College (Brooklyn), City College (Manhattan), and The College of Staten Island. Students receive three continuing education units as well as a certificate of completion for each course. The BOE allows paraprofessionals to apply these continuing education units towards potential salary increases. Paraprofessionals who have a G.E.D., I.E.P. diploma, or a high school diploma can also take these two continuing education courses to meet their NYS six -credit requirement. The credits, however, may not be applied toward a college degree.

Course I topics are:

  • Strengthening the Instructional Team
  • Human & Legal Rights of Children and Youth With Disabilities & their Families
  • Human Development
  • The Instructional Process
  • Appreciating Diversity

Course II topics are:

  • New Dimensions in the Roles & Responsibilities of Paraprofessionals
  • The School and the Community
  • Communications/Problem-Solving Strategies
  • Instructional Methods & Behavior Management Techniques
  • Child Safety and Health Issues

A critical component of the Paraprofessional Development Continuing Education Program is that students receive systematic academic planning and career counseling. For students who take Course I, a two-hour presentation focusing on how to take full advantage of the Career Training program, effectively navigate the CUNY system, and make use of available services is held on-site where students are taking the continuing education course. The counselor challenges students who have been out of college for a while to consider obtaining a degree.

Participants in Course II are given the Holland Self-Directed Search, an interest inventory used in career counseling. The discussion that follows focuses on how students’ unique interests are related to career choices. Once again, the connection between choosing a major and choosing a career is explored. Students are then encouraged to make individual appointments with the counselor to discuss specific concerns.

What begins as a desire for intellectual stimulation, to increase one’s on-the-job skills or salary, often ends up drawing paraprofessionals into the pursuit of a college degree. Once the discovery is made that the paraprofessional can negotiate the demands of full-time employment, family responsibilities, and outside study, he or she often decides to take additional courses for college credit. Highly motivated paraprofessionals will eventually matriculate and earn a degree. In a sense, continuing education departments serve as a vehicle of recruitment into college degree programs.

Since 1993, The Paraprofessional Academy has recognized that there are various methods of delivering education and meeting the training needs of paraprofessionals. The importance of systematic academic planning/career counseling for paraprofessionals and the need to form meaningful alliances with local and state agencies, BOE, and the UFT to create enhanced services for paraprofessionals has also been stressed. As the Paraprofessional Academy enters its sixth year, we remain committed to providing paraprofessionals with quality services and a broad range of options regarding educational/career advancement.

For more information, contact:
Thalia Moshayannis, Director
The Paraprofessional Academy
Center for Advanced Study in Education
The Graduate School and University Center of the
City University of New York
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3300
New York, NY 10016
Phone (212) 817-1829