Four former support staff employees are fulfilling their dreams to become certified teachers in Spring Branch ISD by participating in a program at Relay Graduate School of Education in Houston, an accredited national, non-profit institution of higher education.
With bachelor’s degrees already on their resumes, Jeanine Ybarra, Rosie Rebollar, Maddie Reyes and Sara Cestero are in a two-year cohort to earn master’s degrees in the art of teaching and become SBISD certified teachers in fall 2021.
As SBISD and other other districts face shortages of teacher candidates from traditional university programs, this is a smart and creative way to meet some of the classroom vacancies in the future.
Each Friday, the cohort receives instruction from Relay professors and practices instructional strategies with their fellow classmates from other school districts in the area. The group also meets a few evenings each month for content and core learning.
One of the unique aspects of the Relay program in SBISD is that the four cohort members still work full time for SBISD as Fellow teachers, thanks to funding from the Texas Education Agency's Transformational Zone Planning Grant (TZPG). They teach alongside mentor teachers, called Resident Advisors (RA’s), in four SBISD schools, putting into practice with elementary students what they learned in their Relay course work.
Speaking of the four, very engaged SBISD cohort members, Relay Professor Elizabeth Schaefer said, “They have been a real asset to the group.”
During the spring semester at Relay, there is a focus on teaching data-driven instruction, which includes receiving in-the-moment feedback from students to make sure there are no misconceptions.
For example, during a recent Relay session, strategies were taught for scanning the room to observe whether students have understood the instruction. The graduate student group are also learned how to ask follow-up questions in a variety of ways. They practiced these skills with their peers prior to returning to their classrooms in SBISD.
The RA’s, carefully chosen by principals for strong their teaching abilities, all agree that having teachers-in-training in their classrooms benefits students, as well as their own growth as teachers. The TZPG grant also provides a stipend for the RA’s guidance.
Hunters Creek Elementary fifth-grade teacher and RA Briana Mouyos said of her Relay Fellow teacher Maddie Reyes, “Ms. Reyes has grown in her own confidence and leadership skills. She is very creative and empathetic towards our classrooms. I have benefited as it has brought me back to the beginning of teaching and different styles of lessons.”
More glowing reviews from the SBISD RA’s and the Relay Fellows:
“Rosie has grown to build relationships with the students and has a great rapport with the kids,” said Amanda Firenza, RA to Fellow teacher Rosie Rebollar at Pine Shadows Elementary. "The students see her as another teacher in the room and she has grown to take ownership of our classroom as well as the content we’re teaching together.”
RA Jessica O’Neill, first-grade teacher at Valley Oaks Elementary, says of her Relay Fellow, Sara Cestero, “She has a gentle yet firm tone, strong classroom management, and an ability to quickly build rapport with the students. She has grown so much in her use of precise language when teaching, and in her ability to keep our students highly engaged while delivering content.”
At Cedar Brook Elementary, Jeanine Ybarra is the Relay Fellow in the One Way Dual Language classroom of her RA, Linda Rodriguez.
“I was super excited when I heard about Spring Branch’s partnership with Relay. I had just been thinking about going back to school when I heard about the information session,” said Ybarra.
“Lately she has been working with students to improve writing in English to help them with the upcoming TELPAS writing [exam],” said Rodriguez about Ybarra.
“She’s also been instrumental in helping me with our six newcomers to the United States who came in not knowing how to read and write. I am happy to say that with her help most of them were reading at kindergarten level by middle of the year so it’s exciting to think how much more progress is to be made on their part,” Rodriguez said.
SBISD Talent Dept.’s Stacie Gibson is the coordinator of the Relay cohort program in SBISD. She noted the Relay program is one of the least expensive ways to become a certified teacher. Cohort members earn a higher salary than when they worked as paraprofessionals, and there is tuition assistance available through Relay.
“This program provides a wonderful opportunity for our current paraprofessional staff to continue to grow as employees in SBISD,” said Gibson. This is also another way to place teachers in SBISD who are familiar with the norms and values of the district.
“The eagerness and excitement that they have for the future is contagious and through this grow-your-own program we can be instrumental in training these residents the Spring Branch way. We are hopeful that these four will be able to serve as ambassadors for the program as we move into the next cohort.”
A second cohort will begin in Fall 2020, and Gibson hopes the program participation continues to grow in the district.
Teacher Rodriguez also appreciates the ways the Relay program fosters, grows and disperses internal talent in SBISD. She has learned and benefited from working and coaching another teacher. “This is a true embodiment of Collaborative Spirit,” she said.
“I know we have many paras looking to advance, and having them in this program can make them real assets to Spring Branch,” said Ybarra.
Submitted by Becky Wuerth, SBISD Communications