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UCM's First 'Grow Your Own Teachers' Cohort Graduates with All 17 Launching Careers

By Janice Phelan, July 19, 2022

Julia Sounders GraduationJulia Sounders, who was among the first UCM Grow Your Own Teachers cohort, receives her diploma at the May 2022 graduation ceremony.

The University of Central Missouri Grow Your Own Teachers program provides significant benefits to adult learners as well as school districts with the first 17 program graduates entering their own classrooms this fall. Thanks to a partnership with 14 districts, this unique collaboration helps paraprofessionals earn a bachelor’s degree in education while working full time. 


The program, which launched in 2019, offers the flexibility, support and convenience working adults need to reach their education and career goals while providing well qualified classroom teachers for local schools.


“Grow Your Own Teachers is a very gratifying program for students and instructors,” said Carol Germano, UCM coordinator and adjunct instructor for the program. “It allows school districts the opportunity to keep dedicated and committed educators within their school community. Paraprofessionals know and understand the ‘inner-workings’ of a school community and provide one-on-one instruction to the neediest of students. This experience only supports their goal of becoming exceptional educators.”


Sometimes known as paras, paraprofessionals work side-by-side with teachers to assist students. Traditionally, paras had to give up their full-time job in order to complete the college coursework as well as the observation and practicum requirements for a bachelor’s in education.


“Paraprofessionals come to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge and experience that informs their academic work at UCM,” Germano added. “The knowledge and practical experience that paraprofessionals have developed through their work within the school setting inform and support academic coursework.”  


Through Grow Your Own Teachers, Kim Buchanan graduated in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in special education cross categorical K-12. She has worked as a paraprofessional at both elementary and high school levels and previously worked as a physical therapy assistant. 


After first hearing about the program, Buchanan said, “I just didn't think it was something I could do. After all, I am definitely not a traditional student and felt I was too old to go back to school for a third college degree and start a new career. But, here I am and I know it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life!”


Buchanan, who was hired as a class-within-a-class teacher at Blue Springs High School, added that Grow Your Own Teachers increased her self-confidence and self-esteem and introduced her to great people.


“During this program, we had continued support, guidance and assistance in various forms,” she said. “I always felt like I could turn to anyone in the administrative/academic aspect of the program and receive whatever I needed. I also made some great friends through the program. There may have been times I thought I couldn't do it, but between the UCM program staff and these amazing women I call my best friends now, I did it!”


Among the 2022 program graduates, 10 are certified and working in special education with seven certified and employed in elementary or early childhood classrooms. The second cohort, including 26 students, began the program during spring 2022 with the third cohort scheduled to start in summer 2023.


Grow Your Own Teachers, which operates out of UCM’s Lee’s Summit campus, includes the following school districts: Blue Springs, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Harrisonville, North Kansas City, Fort Osage, Guadalupe Center, Odessa, Pleasant Hill, Moniteau R-V, Warrensburg and Lafayette County C-1. Kansas City Missouri Public Schools is joining the program for fall 2022, offering an elementary education degree.


To allow paraprofessionals to continue working full-time during the school year, courses are offered evenings, online and summers. If enough paraprofessionals enroll from a school district, UCM works to provide some courses at the district’s facilities. In addition, UCM staff members worked closely with the school districts’ human resources officials to create a program that utilizes the paras’ classroom experiences to meet requirements for practicum hours. 


For a student with no previous education college coursework, Grow Your Own Teachers takes around three years to complete with a student taking roughly 27 hours each year. Participants join a cohort of other paraprofessionals to share experiences while also working with a program coordinator/mentor for additional support. 


Paraprofessionals from any of the participating districts who are interested in learning more about this innovative collaboration may contact their human resources department or Carol Germano,


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