In many inner-city schools across the United States students and teachers frequently come from different worlds different neighborhoods and different cultures. The disparity increases in urban school systems, many of which lack African-American male teachers, who could be powerful role models for students who often have few others. Pathways to Teaching, sponsored by the State of Georgia and initiated and supported by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, provides teacher education opportunities for school personnel and "paraeducators" teaching assistants who could relate to and inspire students in their communities.
Based at Armstrong Atlantic State University (AASU) in Savannah, the program recruits teaching assistants and clerical employees from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School District. Participants are given financial support to pursue a bachelor's degree and teaching certificates at Armstrong Atlantic. While school workers are taking classes, seniors in the regular education program at the university fill in at their jobs.
Supplying key forms of supports for individual teaching candidates, the Savannah Pathways models an accessible and worthy exercise in creating a stairway for school workers to licensure. Paid time off, tuition assistance, and scholarships require financial investment by schools and partner organizations. These investments return significantly when prospective teachers complete their courses of study.
Incoming Pathways to Teaching Scholars have records as high achievers and community servants. In 1997, these scholars exceeded the Armstrong Atlantic State University mean Grade Point Average for education students, and passed the Georgia Teacher Certification Test at an impressive 95 percent rate. Furthermore, 96 percent of Pathways scholars placed since 1994 were still teaching for Savannah-Chatham Public Schools, far surpassing national and local averages of teacher retention rates. Scholars in the Savannah Pathways Program have also taken their expertise outside of school, visiting students' homes and initiating tutor programs for over 200 at-risk youth.
Finally, scholars, some juggling family life while working hard to complete courses of study, benefit from the pathway to well-paid teaching careers. In 1997, according to Elijah West, Jr., a former classroom aide who taught a class for at-risk fifth-grade boys, "Before Pathways to Teaching it looked like I was going to have a long career as a paraprofessional, with no time and no money for college." Through Pathways, West says, he was given "the opportunity to change lives." He appears to be well on his way to doing that. In his class alone, student suspensions tumbled 70 percent, and on weekends his students regularly volunteer to clean their school and contribute to other community projects.
The Pathways to Teaching model of professional development for paraeducators has formed a living circle of community service, enabling school personnel to become teachers motivated by the knowledge and experience within their neighborhoods and communities.