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Growing Our Own Teachers

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Jacque Tovar has been a paraeducator in Salt Lake City’s schools for over 20 years. As a youth, Jacque struggled in school. She and her parents — a Mexican immigrant father and a white mother — were forced to move year after year into new school boundaries. Today, Jacque works tirelessly on behalf of students, particularly those with emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities. In 2018, this commitment earned her Utah’s Marilyn Likins Paraeducator of the Year award. Jacque has long dreamt of earning her teaching license, but despite multiple attempts to return to college, obstacles have always delayed these plans.

“When I first got out of high school and enrolled at the U, my mom lost her job. I tried to go back again but she got cancer and I stopped going, to support her. Every time I thought I was ready and had enough money to get back in college something else would pull me back out, so that I couldn’t afford it emotionally or monetarily.”

In 2018, Jacque joined a new initiative called Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE). GYOE supports pathways to teaching for local community members and paraeducators in high poverty schools. Jacque became a member of the initiative’s first paraeducator cohort, a group of 12 employees in the Salt Lake City school district working to earn their teaching license.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’m a part of this. The paraeducators accepted into this program are primarily educators of color that are already working in Title 1 schools. We have various experiences and levels of education, but our commonality is our drive to become teachers within our own communities.”

Since joining the cohort, Jacque has re-enrolled at Salt Lake Community College to finish her associates degree. She’s now co-chairing the GYOE planning committee, assistant teaching for a new paraeducator training course, and is one of the partnership’s most vocal advocates.

“I like that we’re all in it together and that we support each other. A lot of us didn’t know what to do next, or if we could do it. In the cohort we feel supported, and that support system is crucial. We are working together to navigate the educational system so we can all give back to our communities by becoming licensed teachers. And we want to support parents within our communities to join this pathway by becoming paraeducators and to work in their community schools.”

There are so many individuals like Jacque in our schools. They are classroom aides, student advocates, after-school coordinators, and parent volunteers. They have years of experience, deep connections to community, and a demonstrated commitment to students. As we work to address Utah’s teacher shortage and increase the diversity of our teacher workforce, we cannot afford to ignore these fabulous educators right in our midst. However, these individuals often face multiple obstacles to earning a teaching license.

GYOE works to break down the financial and social barriers that members of low-wealth communities and communities of color face when entering the teaching profession. It is a partnership that includes the Urban Institute for Teacher Education, the Department of Special Education at the U, Salt Lake City School District, Salt Lake Education Foundation, Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, and the National Resource Center for Paraeducators. 

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Grow Your Own Educators Annual Report Cover Image

GYOE has just put out its first annual report, offering a glimpse into the partnership’s first full year in operation. Among the partnership’s achievements are:

12 members of our paraeducator cohort completed 35 college courses for a total of 105 credits.

40 paraeducators took part in a pilot training series, and 88% report already using what they learned in their day-to day-work.




GYOE continues to build toward its vision of a sustainable, accessible pathway for local community members and paraeducators to become successful classroom teachers. The partnership is seeking additional resources and partners, including:

Scholarship Funds
Tuition and fees will continue to be a major priority for GYOE. In addition to supporting cohort members in applying to all available scholarships and awards, GYOE is looking to develop its own scholarships for committed participants.

Foundational Supports
GYOE recognizes that the barriers to higher education are not only financial. They also include the need for supports like child care, transportation, tutoring, and technology that allow individuals to support themselves and their families while furthering their educations. GYOE is looking for financial and in-kind donations in this area.

For more information, or to get involved, email Paul Kuttner at