To provide teachers with aides to assist them with extra duties that came about as a response to the pandemic, the Socorro Independent School District, in partnership with Workforce Solutions Borderplex and the University of Texas at El Paso, put the Teacher COVID-19 Rescue Team Pilot Program in place this year.
The program, funded by the National Dislocated Worker Grant from the Department of Labor, was invaluable as educators had to adapt, reevaluate, and rethink teaching and learning, while implementing COVID-19 safety measures.
The Teacher COVID-19 Rescue Team Program was designated to provide COVID relief to businesses, organizations, and the community impacted by the pandemic.
“I think education is really important,” said Denise Arrieta, Workforce Solutions business services manager. “We work closely with our schools and try to help each other out, so that together we can help our city’s economic development and our workforce.”
Arrieta said the program funds 44 teachers’ aides in El Paso area schools, with 20 employed at SISD schools. Many of the aides had been affected by the pandemic with their hours at work being cut or losing their jobs altogether. The program put the aides, who have experience working with children or have worked in the education field before, back into the classroom with new jobs.
The primary duty of the teacher aides was to help with daily COVID safety procedures, such as temperature checks, checking that students had submitted ESWIPE (daily online wellness check) and making sure students stayed safely distanced from one another. They also helped with the extra workload teachers faced in the classroom as they balanced both in-person and online instruction.
“These heroes have helped us with everything from safely serving breakfast and lunch to classroom intervention,” said SISD Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Marivel Macias. “These amazing workers help us whenever there is a student who may need additional support and they’ll work alongside the teacher for the benefit of the students.”
Macias said that this is a great opportunity for those interested in education, but also a great opportunity for the district to see the number of qualified individuals that are out there. Hopefully, the teachers’ aides will return to the district once they have obtained their college degrees, she said.
UTEP student and Horizon Heights Elementary aide Stephanie Garcia said the program caught her attention because she saw it as a great opportunity to gain experience in education.
Working as an aide, she said she’s gained hands-on experience working with students and she has learned how to balance working with a hybrid method of teaching.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Garcia said. “The teachers here have been really helpful, and they’ve taught me a lot.”
Gabriela Azcarate, a UTEP student and aide at SSG Manuel R. Puentes Middle School, said the experience has been especially interesting as it has been one outside of the usual traditional setting and one that everyone has had to adapt to.
“I feel this experience has given me an idea as far as what to expect when I become a teacher,” Azacrate said. “I’ve learned a lot through working with the students hands on, seeing how everything is applied and how students respond to it.”
Montwood High School aide and UTEP student Melanie Espinoza-Nevarez said she lost her job in January because of the pandemic. When she heard about the program, she saw it as a good opportunity and step to take toward her career path in education.
“This opportunity has granted me hands-on experience that can’t necessarily be taught in college courses,” Espinoza-Nevarez said. “They teach you to plan out lesson plans and what you can do to help students learn but working one on one with students allows you to understand what it means to be a teacher, a mentor, because each student has their own way of learning.”
Espinoza-Nevarez said that the program not only helped others in situations like herself gain hands-on experience, but in turn it has helped create a better and stronger learning environment for students struggling to adapt to the new ways of learning.
“I believe that education is an important tool for everyone to utilize in any career aspect you choose,” she said. “Education is very important and fundamental for everyone.”