Cynthia Battle always wanted to be a teacher. But between the need to earn a living and the high cost of college, Battle only earned a two-year associate’s degree and then went to work as a paraprofessional (teaching assistant) in Evanston/Skokie District 65 .

“I wish I could have been a teacher,” Battle says, “but I just couldn’t afford it.”

Cynthia Battle.

Today, 22 years later, at 58, his goal has finally been achieved.

Battle is one of ten D65 paraprofessionals who have been accepted into the district’s teacher apprenticeship program, a chance for those with AA degrees to complete the two years still required for a BA, earn a license and of becoming a teacher… with District 65 taking the tab.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Battle said.

For District 65, the apprenticeship program is a chance to “grow their own” teachers in times of shortage, as well as create a more diverse candidate pool.

“Within our ranks,” says Deputy Superintendent Andalib Khelgati, “we have an untapped resource of mission-oriented individuals.”

The learning is managed by an educational training platform called BloomBoard. Classes are all online, so ‘paras’, as they often call themselves, can keep their jobs while completing classes on their own schedules.

There is, of course, on-the-job training.

While BloomBoard coordinates the program, degrees come from one of two accredited programs, St. Louis University or Oklahoma Christian University.

The cost of District 65 is $135,000. Federal funds pick up the first year. If that money is not available next year, district officials are confident that other grants can be found.

Demand among District 65 paraprofessionals was high. Thirty-two people applied for the 10 slots.

“There’s value in starting small,” Khelgati says.

“We want to grow successfully.”

The apprenticeship is similar in philosophy to another program instituted by Superintendent Devon Horton, the Teachers’ Residence.

The residency, which began in 2021-22, is for those who already have four-year degrees, but do not have teaching credentials. Participants earn a master’s degree in one year while serving as a student teacher and earning $30,000.

Those who complete their residencies are then hired by the district.

There were some problems in the first year, as only 12 out of 19 participants finished. This year, it was reduced to eight, with the colleges moving from Northwestern and National Louis to Chicago State.

Khelgati says District 65 has learned lessons from the residency program that will be applied to paraprofessional teacher trainees, such as more work with mentor teachers and coaches.

Battle, who works at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center with preschoolers, says one of the people most excited for her is Jennifer Parent, the teacher she’s worked with in the classroom for 15 years.

“He will miss me when I become a teacher,” Battle says. “But she’s glad I was given the chance.”

Battle, who also leads the paraprofessional workers’ union, says she “really loves her job”, but being a teacher instead of an assistant will allow her to help children even more.

Plus, the big pay rise won’t hurt either.

Orientation for the apprenticeship program will take place next month, followed by the start of online classes.

Cynthia Battle is proof that it’s never too late to realize your dream.

In theory, once she gets her four-year degree and her teaching certificate, she could leave District 65 and find a job elsewhere.

But that won’t happen.

“I’m going to stay at 65,” Battle says. “This is where I intend to retire.”

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