In just four years since its inception, the Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP) at Wichita State University’s College of Applied Studies (CAS) has had a big impact on school districts and communities across Kansas.
TAP is an online program with a focus on preparing elementary and special education paraeducators as licensed teachers at the early childhood (birth–3rd grade) or elementary education level. Because the program is online, paraeducators across Kansas can enroll.
Since 2017, about 400 paraeducators have graduated from the program to become fully certified teachers. Currently, TAP has around 600 students enrolled and spread throughout 180 Kansas school districts.
That impact on Kansas communities is allowing each district to grow their own teachers and keep these individuals living and prospering within the community.
“TAP is a vital source of recruiting and retention for Wichita Public Schools,” says
WPS chief human resources officer. “We value the quality and services that come from our partnership with WSU in order to hire talented teaching professionals across our district. The paras that transition to teaching through this program excel, as they have mastered skills in the classroom early in their career.”
TAP coordinator and instructor
TAP is providing an accessible, affordable opportunity for paraeducators to return to the classroom, earn their degree and prepare for licensure as a Kansas teacher, said Dr. Ashlie Jack, interim associate dean at CAS.
“TAP has allowed hundreds of students to move from earning $9-$10 an hour to earning an annual teacher salary of approximately $43,000 a year. This program has also allowed families to receive health insurance, an employment benefit often not afforded to para educators.”
Sara Eubank, who graduated from the program in May 2021, says as an adult learner, it would have been difficult to go back to school while not working.
“The TAP program allowed me to connect my education requirements to my job in the education system,” she says. “After graduating from the program, I have had the opportunity to provide my family with extras that were not in the budget before I earned my degree in elementary education.”
The Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education and elementary education programs offer a flexible program of study and is built around the philosophy of an “inverted curriculum,” meaning many of the professional courses are at the front end of the program to focus on heightening the skills of paraeducators in their current position.
“Our students learn information through their coursework that is immediately applicable to their classrooms,” said Jill Wood, TAP coordinator and instructor. “Not only does this provide an immediate opportunity for our students to apply their new knowledge, but it benefits the students they are teaching by providing them with a teacher who improves their instruction every day.”
The goal is to increase success in the classroom from the beginning and then build on those strengths as students matriculate through the program. TAP majors not only complete required coursework, but they also earn college credit for their experience as a paraeducator each semester, which applies toward their degrees. This program does not require a student to quit work to complete this degree, as may sometimes be the case when pursuing a new degree.
“If our students had to quit their jobs for a semester to student teach, it would drastically affect their income, and the school district would lose a valuable employee,” Wood said. “By allowing students to use the experience and knowledge they gain in the classroom on a daily basis as credit for their internship courses, it benefits everyone.”