Pathway Program Creates Pipeline of Chelsea-Connected Educators
CHELSEA, MASS. -- The Teacher Pathway Program (TPP) in Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) was initiated in 2019 as a program designed to accomplish a variety of objectives: to diversify the teachers in Chelsea, to improve on teacher retention and to build a bond between school and community by identifying people in the Chelsea community that aspired to be professional educators.
Over two school years later, this initiative has continued to grow and continued to make an impact with the educators that come through the program. Martha Cecilia Valentin and Yesenia Ortiz are both graduates of the two different tracts that the TPP offers, and exemplify the talented educators that have Chelsea roots. Valentin is a Chelsea resident who immigrated to the city nearly three decades ago and is a CPS teacher, while Ortiz is a current CPS paraprofessional who is a born-and-raised Chelsea resident. The TPP enabled them to follow their aspirations to become educators in Chelsea.
“Ever since I was little, I think I had that in mind that I was going to be a teacher,” commented Valentin.
“I had always been interested in getting into the public schools and my son was always like ‘mom, why won’t you come work at my school? You’ll like it!’ So once I heard about the parent-to-para program, I thought hey why not,” reflected Ortiz.
The TPP was initiated at the start of the 2019-20 school year as an approach to increase the diversity among Chelsea Public Schools’ teachers as well as to improve teacher retention in the school district. The Program is a portion of the efforts of Superintendent Dr. Almi G. Abeyta’s larger Strategic Plan to keep teachers in the district while offering them the opportunity to grow within their profession.
Two tracts exist in the Pathway Program: The Paraprofessional to Teacher tract and the Parent to Paraprofessional tract. Valentin went through the para-to-teacher tract, while Ortiz completed the parent-to-para tract. Benefits of the para-to-teacher program include financial assistance, teacher licensure support, career development and access to a community of aspiring teachers. The parent-to-para tract creates an avenue for parents in Chelsea, like Ortiz, to work in the school system as paraprofessionals through access to workshops, job placement support, educational support and career development.
Valentin and Ortiz’s comments reflect their experiences within the TPP. They are two individuals who either immigrated to Chelsea at a young age such as Valentin, or were born-and-bred in Chelsea like Ortiz. They embody the purpose of the program that, among other things, aims to recruit and train educators that reflect the City’s community.
“I’m proud to be in Chelsea and working for the Chelsea Schools and giving back to the kids that were in my shoes. Well I was in their shoes years ago, you know!” Ortiz said.
The connection between school and community is a critical component to the Pathway Program. Both Valentin and Ortiz are alumna of Chelsea High School, and identify with the CPS experience that all students have. Valentin has worked in the school system for decades, beginning in 1992, while Ortiz is a lifelong resident of Chelsea who went through the public schools system from start to finish. They both credit their connection to the City as a benefit to them as instructors.
“I am a Chelsea girl! My mother brought me here. We moved to Chelsea and I grew up here. I belong to Chelsea. That’s how I feel. I love the community. I love the people,” Valentin exclaimed. “It [her Chelsea connection] helps me a lot with the parent involvement. I think it is the key to our success as teachers. We need to push them [the kids]. And I know how to do it because I can relate to them and I can talk to them.”
Ortiz added, “I think the kids feel comfortable because they see somebody that represents them, and they see somebody that represents the community. I do think it’s a really good thing because the kids will be like, ‘Oh I know who that is’ so if they can do this, I can do it too. So it becomes the inspiration that they can do whatever they want to do as well.”
At the onset of the program, a two-year goal was established to raise the number of teachers of color in Chelsea to 27 percent in the district, and in the past year that number has grown to 22 percent. As of September 2021, 14 total hires have been made from the TPP, all but one of which have been teachers of color.
The TPP has grown to a third cohort on the para-to-teacher tract, which currently consists of 14 paraprofessionals and two teachers on a provisional license. The second cohort of the parent-to-para program will begin accepting applications in 2021. As a recent graduate of that tract, Ortiz encourages that if there are parents in the community who want to be more involved with the school system, then the TPP is an avenue worth pursuing.
“I would say to go for it. There’s no problem with just going for it even if you think that you might not know what you’re going to get into because everybody is really helpful and supportive in the program. So they take you step by step throughout the whole process.” She continued, “I would let them know that there’s a lot of support, that there’s a lot of people that want to see them in the schools and want their perspectives in the school. And kids alone will love that. Having them in the school, knowing that their parents are making a difference and helping out other kids.”
As part of a larger strategic effort to recruit, retain and develop teachers who represent the diversity and vibrancy of the Chelsea community, the TPP provides the guidance and support needed to develop long-term careers in education, and strengthen the connection between CPS students and their teachers. Graduates of the program, like Valentin, have proven that adding instructors who have Chelsea roots benefits students and families alike.
“It’s very important for us as teachers to know the community. To get in deep, to go a little extra. I like to help out. It’s in me, I guess. And the students and parents can relate to me.”
To learn more about the TPP, visit The Teacher Pathway Program website.