ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County Public Schools has 1,800 para professionals working in classrooms and wants to utilize them to fill teacher vacancies. 

  • Orange County Public Schools 
  • Orange County Public Schools teaming up with Rollins College
  • Program grads could start as teachers at $40,000 a year

So the district is teaming up with Rollins College to give those para professionals a chance to fulfill their dreams of having their own classroom. 

Rollins College student Marybell Doe could hardly contain herself talking about the opportunity the program has given her. 

“I never thought it was gonna happen so to be here today it makes me cry every day,” Doe said.

Marybell is one of the first students in a cohort of para professionals that assist teachers in Orange County classrooms every day taking part in a new program at Rollins. 

“Which I absolutely love but I dream of something so much more, of having my own classroom being able to structure that, being able to structure curriculum,” Doe said.

Teaching has been a dream Marybell has had for a long time now. 

“When I was a little girl and I used to have my own classroom in my living room and I was probably like 5 or 6, and it had all my little stuffed animals and my mom would be so upset because I would take my books and rip the pages because they were handouts,” Doe said.

But that dream seemed out of reach for so long. 

Normally the tuition and class hours would keep these para professionals like her from realizing their dreams. But Rollins new program designed specifically for OCPS para professionals is changing that. 

“There were many para professionals in Orange County public schools and many of them already had their AA degrees and had dreams of being a teacher and didn’t see how they could get past that hurdle,” said Education Chair at Rollins College Dr. Debra Wellman.

They've partnered with OCPS to create a program where para professionals already working for the district could take evening classes to get their bachelor's degree in education. 

Right now OCPS says they have 35 teaching vacancies…the lowest in recent years for the district.

But this program is aimed to fill those remaining vacancies with these para professionals who are already dedicated to Orange County students.

“Our goal is 0 vacancies, so to meet that goal of zero vacancies we've had to look at other options and this was an internal leadership program we've created," said head of Talent Acquisition for OCPS Neil Otto. 

But it will also help these para pros double their income. On average they make around $20,000/year, but as starting teachers once they graduate they'll make $40,000/year.

And for Marybell, it helps her fulfill her lifelong dream.

“Graduating with my graduation cap and being able to throw it up in the air! And being able to get that degreed and going back to OCPS and saying I did it! And I’m ready!!” Doe said.

OCPS covers textbook costs and provides them a computer to use. 

If graduates commit to work in a title one school after completing the program, they get a $500 scholarship per semester from Rollins.