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NewsFeb 8, 2023

Celebrating a new class of teachers

Graduates of innovative licensure program for paraprofessionals share stories and good cheer at weekend reception

Members of the Pathways for Paraprofessionals cohort pose for the camera
In the University Hall atrium on Saturday, members of the first cohort of Pathways for Paraprofessionals celebrate their completion of the program, and the earning of M.Ed. degrees and teaching credentials. The program is a partnership between Lesley and Cambridge Public Schools.

By John Sullivan

They came seeking teaching credentials. They also found a community.

On an arctic Saturday morning, the university celebrated the first 14 graduates of our innovative Pathways for Paraprofessionals program.

The students — who work in Cambridge Public Schools — gathered in the University Hall Atrium with loved ones, Lesley faculty members, President Janet L. Steinmayer, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, School Committee members Fred Fantini and Rachel Weinstein, and other supporters of the graduates of an innovative teacher-licensure program.

“This is what fuels all of us at Lesley,” President Steinmayer said in her opening remarks, referring to the “glow on the faces” of the graduates, whose “blazing determination” and accomplishments “outshine by far all the cold outside.”

The Pathways for Paraprofessionals program, a partnership between Lesley University and Cambridge Public Schools, offers discounted tuition for Cambridge paraprofessionals, many of whom are people of color and come from the community, to earn their master’s degrees and teaching licenses. The tuition is paid by the city school district. Courses are conducted in Cambridge through our Graduate School of Education.

The program helps diversify Cambridge Public Schools’ teaching workforce by tapping the ranks of district paraprofessionals, who more closely reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the student population. The paraprofessionals earn their licenses and move into lead teacher positions across the district, increasing their earning potential by furthering their education.

The first cohort of this program includes: Zineb Allou, Paige Bacci, Julia Bosco, Michelle Cronin, Karina De los Santos, Stefanie Gardner, Solana Herron-Smith, Andrea Jasmin, Celeste McGhee, Vincent Orgeat, Rebecca Pearl, Marlene Ramos, Stephanie Williams, and Yang Xiang.

The afternoon was full of accolades. Mayor Siddiqui, whose first job out of law school was as a law clerk for university General Counsel Shirin Philipp. The mayor commended Lesley for its role as a partner in city relief fundraising efforts, our Early College Program and for being “so vital to the social, cultural and economic health of our city.”

Fantini, likewise, thanked the university for partnering with Cambridge Public Schools to make the promise of an M.Ed. degree accessible and affordable for paraprofessionals, and also said the students themselves “set a high bar.”

Quoting Albert Einstein, Fantini said, “Genius is 99 percent perspiration, hard work and perseverance,” adding: “If Mr. Einstein were here today, he would declare you all geniuses.”

The graduates also praised the university, their supportive families, and each other, for helping them achieve their dreams of becoming licensed schoolteachers.

“I wish you got to witness what we got to experience,” Gardner said, alluding to dance parties, remote classroom sessions and, occasionally, tears. She touted the cohort’s “human connection and the opportunity to love each other.”

Williams added that the camaraderie among the cohort made a challenging decision much easier.