When Taylor Thompson started working for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) three years ago as an instructional aide, she knew she wanted to become a teacher someday.
The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program has helped her make that goal a reality.
"The grant has helped with tuition, testing, fees, and books," Thompson said. "That has been immensely helpful."
She's now teaching as an intern for the North Coastal Consortium for Special Education (NCCSE). She's also on her way to earning a master's degree and teaching credential next year as part of the program, which was created to ease California's teacher shortage.
About a dozen classified employees at SDCOE are participating in the grant program.
Before starting at SDCOE, Thompson worked as a graphic designer. She loved the creative aspects of it, but always felt like the work was too solitary for her.
"Being a graphic designer is a very individual thing, and I like people too much," she said.
She started with NCCSE as an aide to see how much she would like the work. She loved it, especially being an itinerant teacher, which means she supports students from schools throughout North County and doesn't have her own classroom.
"I never saw myself in a classroom," she said. "I'm much more of a one-on-one kind of person. I learned about itinerant teachers and thought, 'Oh my gosh! This is perfect.'"
Thompson is one of three employees at NCCSE who have received support through the program as they pursue their teaching credential. She heard about the opportunity from her supervisor, who knew she wanted to become a teacher.
The employees connect with education advisors who walk them through the process and let them know about helpful resources.
At schools across the county, there are 110 people participating in the grant program, with another 60 expected to start this fall.
"Classified employees are often from the community where they work, which means they have a strong understanding of the local students and culture within the school," said Dr. Sheiveh Jones, the SDCOE Human Resources director who oversees the program in San Diego County. "Classified employees can bring a unique and very helpful lens to teaching."
In May, 34 classified employees from across Southern California graduated from the program with teaching credentials, including SDCOE outdoor education specialist Hannah Campbell. The group completed their credentials at SDSU, National University, Brandman University, CSU San Marcos, Cal State TEACH, and University of Phoenix.
Campbell, who started the program two years ago, said the program was a big help both financially and with paperwork.
Campbell found a love for teaching through nature. She went to camp as a child and came home saying that she wanted to be a naturalist.
"I didn't know that I wanted to be a teacher, but looking back at everything that I have done and enjoy doing, it always involved teaching," she said.