Ashland-Greenwood’s 3T program fills tremendous need while providing “phenomenal” classroom experience to prospective teachers

Ashland-Greenwood’s 3T program fills tremendous need while providing “phenomenal” classroom experience to prospective teachers

By Tyler Dahlgren

In its pilot year, Ashland-Greenwood’s “Training Tomorrow’s Teachers” program has fulfilled a tremendous need within the district while providing seniors with an eye on a career in education invaluable classroom experience.

You could call the program, which has been dubbed “3T” by the Bluejays, a smashing success that’s been beneficial for everyone involved. A true win-win situation, though that might be a bit of an undersell. Hiring seniors as paras at both the K-2 elementary and 3-5 intermediate buildings has been, in reality, a win-win-win-win kind of deal.

“It’s helped fulfill that need at a para support level, while also getting these students interested in becoming teachers, too,” said intermediate principal Megan Poell. “It has positively impacted everybody. It’s been great for the paras, our students really look forward to them coming and have a very strong attachment to them and appreciate the support they give them with their learning, and teachers have expressed that they don’t know what they’d do without them..”

There are 11 Ashland-Greenwood seniors working what director of student services Kristin Fangmeyer called a “legitimate job.” Fangmeyer got the ball rolling last year when she wrote up a proposal to be shared with the school board after hearing about similar programs in other districts. Legitimacy in the job, she said, was the only way the program was going to succeed.

“We assured the board members in our proposal that 3T paras would be similarly treated and trained, just like our other para educators,” Fangmeyer explained. “They went through the same application process and into the same interview process. They’ve been a part of the majority of our professional development. They are true Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools employees.”

In those interviews, the district makes it very clear that they will serve as a reference in all the student paras’ future endeavors, Fangmeyer said. So long as they put in the work and take the job seriously. This year’s group, the maiden cohort, you could say, has gone above and beyond in that regard.

“We knew we were going to put a lot of responsibility on them, and that they needed to be compensated for that,” Fangmeyer said of the decision to pay the student paras. “Kids are willing to volunteer, and that’s great, but our expectation was ‘If we’re going to set up a schedule and have our younger students rely on them, we need to make it feel legitimate and reflective of that responsibility. We’re asking them to do a true job.”

And boy, you should see the kids light up when a senior para walks into their classroom.

“There’s something special about the connections you can cultivate in a school this size,” said Fangmeyer. “I know there are larger districts doing similar things, and that’s awesome. But that connection piece is so cool. The kids get to see them out on the football field or on the stage in a play and then come to school that next Monday and they’re teaching them and working on a reading lesson with them. There’s power in that.”

In addition to the extensive interview process, seniors must have two consecutive blocks free in their schedule to be hired. When Fangmeyer pitched the idea, Poell said the team behind implementation was intentional about targeting students with a need for extra academic support. As the seniors have grown more comfortable in the class and with the students, extra responsibility has been slid onto their plates. Now, it’s to the point where a student will raise their hands and request help, but specifically from a senior para.

“When that happened, it made me realize how much of an impact this gives me an opportunity to make,” said senior Kaitlin Pfeiffer, who spends her time working with 3rd and 4th-graders. “It feels nice knowing that.”

Pfeiffer, who’s involved in FFA, FBLA, NHS and plays softball, said learning how different students process information in different ways has been a key part of her own learning curve. Senior Jeris Anndannandus, who works with the 3rd and 5th-grade, said 3T has given him an appreciation for the art of education. Anndannandus, who has racked up awards for his performances on stage and wants to pursue a career as an actor, wasn’t always the best kid in school.

“I always kind of thought, ‘Man, these teachers are just working us out,’” he said. “But it’s kind of the other way around. I have a whole different perspective and respect for teachers after working in this field.”

Both Anndannandus and Pfeiffer, who plans on studying architectural engineering, will embark on their post-secondary lives with real-world experience in their back pockets. 3T has taught them invaluable lessons in communications and time management, life skills imperative to success. And now, they’ll each have education as a back-up plan.

“This has been phenomenal,” said Anndannandus, whose smile never breaks as he bounces from one group of third-graders to the next during a study session. “You don’t see a ton of schools doing this, and it might be the last thing you would expect a small school to do. Really, it’s just a ‘Thank you for this opportunity’ kind of thing.”

Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools has a knack for this type of thing, added Pfeiffer. Many places aim for a family feel. Here, they mean it. They live it.

“They always want to make sure the elementary schoolers feel like they have a relationship with the middle and high schoolers,” Pfeiffer said. “This is just another way to get our faces out there and to build those connections. The younger kids will go to the high school for basketball games, and they’ll come to school and say ‘I saw your picture up on the wall’ or ‘I saw your locker’, and they just get so excited.”

So far, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Poell said 3T will expand in the future, given how this year’s 11 senior paras have far and away exceeded all expectations.

“They’re working hard and making an impact in our classrooms, and our teaching staff has been blown away by the professionalism they’ve brought to the job,” she continued. “They’ve proven it can be a sustainable reality.”