SAN MARCOS – A new partnership between Palomar College and the Escondido Union School District offers free college courses for instructional aides – and a chance for them to work toward a degree that leads to a career as a teacher.

The Paraeducator Partnership Program, called P3, was created to remove the roadblocks that sometimes prevent school employees from pursuing a college degree. The Palomar College classes are held twice weekly in the evenings at the school district office, and the district pays for tuition, books and childcare.

“This program benefits our whole community,” said Palomar College Superintendent/President Dr. Star Rivera-Lacey. “The students in the program are earning a degree or certificate that can lead to a better-paying job, and the school district will ultimately have more qualified applicants for its teaching positions.”

Dr. John Albert, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources of the Escondido Union School District, said “the program was developed to address a shortage of instructional aides and special education teachers that increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Potential recruits for the entry-level instructional aide positions were opting for less challenging jobs.”

He approached Palomar College officials about creating the program that could be offered as an incentive to new employees, enabling them to earn an associate degree while still working.

“If we built this pipeline where we started recruiting high school seniors and gave them on-the-job training and education so they build their skill sets to be teachers, over time we can make a dent in this hiring need,” Albert said.

The P3 program started in Fall 2022 with about two dozen current employees as students. The next cohort starting in August is expected to have 40 students, including 26 graduating seniors from Orange Glen High School in Escondido.

The students first earn a Child Development School Age Assistant certificate, this can lead to earning a University Studies:  Elementary Education Preparation Associate of Arts degree that is transferable to a four-year university.  Albert said he hopes to partner with a university so that the students can earn a bachelor’s degree and their teaching certificate.

A celebration will be held this month to honor the first group of students who have completed the requirements for the certificate. Laurel Anderson, chair of the Child Development and Education Department at Palomar College, said the program is useful even for students who decide not to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“Everything is very practical,” she said. “What they learn in the classroom, they are able to immediately implement it in their daily practice.”

Albert said the employees participating in the program appreciate the opportunity to continue their education.

“The response has been fantastic,” he said. “The employees say they don’t believe they would have been able to continue their schooling without this program.”