Innovative program at UNI leads to dozens of new elementary educators

Innovative program at UNI leads to dozens of new elementary educators

Teacher watches as students do their homework

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – More than 60 new educators are ready to launch their own elementary school classrooms for the first time, thanks to an innovative new program at the University of Northern Iowa. This group of teachers are the first graduates of the Purple Pathway for Paraeducators program, which launched in 2022 to provide practicing paraeducators a pathway for earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

“This program involved a large amount of work, across multiple departments at the University of Northern Iowa. Thanks to this program, we now have 62 new elementary educators ready to lead their own classrooms,” said Colleen Mulholland, dean of UNI’s College of Education.  

The first cohort of the Purple Pathway for Paraeducators completed its student teaching experiences this spring and graduated in May. All the graduating members of this first cohort are eligible for licensure in Iowa for two endorsements: elementary K-6 and strategist I, the special education endorsement for working with students with mild to moderate special needs. Paraeducators from across the state participated in the program while continuing their positions as teaching assistants in various Iowa K-6 classrooms.

“Equipping these paraeducators is crucial at a time when there is still a nationwide teacher shortage,” said Mulholland. “This fully-online, accelerated program allows for the flexibility for working paraeducators to achieve their dreams of leading their own classrooms.” 

To qualify for the program, paraeducators must be employed; have support from their building and district administrator and mentor teachers; hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree; and be able to commit to an online schedule that includes one three-hour synchronous (real time) online evening session per week and one six-hour synchronous Saturday a month. All coursework is online, including additional asynchronous work-time. Licensed classroom teachers serve as mentors onsite for the paraeducators.

“We're grateful for the support of all the school district partners across the state who worked with us to ensure these paraeducators can achieve their dreams to teach," added Mulholland. 

Although this is the first cohort to graduate from the Purple Pathway for Paraeducators, the pathway builds on the success of UNI’s online transfer (2+2) program in elementary education, which has been going strong for nearly 30 years.