Saint Leo was one of 10 institutions in the state — and the only one in the Tampa area — to receive a Pathways to Career Opportunities Grow Your Own Teacher Grant to expand opportunities for teacher apprenticeships in Florida. Saint Leo and its partner, the Pasco County School district, submitted an application for the grant in hopes of receiving funding to help build the university’s Para-to-Pro Program with the school district. 

This program allows paraprofessionals (student resource personnel) in the district to remain employed while earning their bachelor’s in education from Saint Leo. And on December 13, Governor Ron DeSantis announced $5 million (among the 10 institutions) would be awarded by the Florida Department of Education for teacher apprenticeships in Florida. 

In addition to Saint Leo, the institutions receiving funding in 2023-24 are: Broward College, Daytona State College, Florida A&M University, Florida Gateway College, Florida SouthWestern State College, Miami Dade College, Rollins College, Seminole State College, Saint Leo University, and the University of Florida. 

This program strengthens the state’s teacher pipeline by creating a no-cost apprenticeship pathway to the teaching profession, and will help more than 200 teachers per year become credentialed, the governor’s office stated in a press release. 

“Our partnership with Pasco County Schools extends back to 2006 when we first began collaborating with the district in arranging for field placements for our education students,” said Dr. Holly Atkins, chair of the Undergraduate Education Department. “This grant builds on the ongoing partnership.” 

This grant will allow Pasco County Schools to attract candidates to become apprentice teachers by offering a high-quality teacher preparation program at Saint Leo University and by employing them within the school district, offering competitive salaries with advancement upon the completion of the degree, benefits, and tuition assistance all while attaining a bachelor's degree. 

Other goals for this grant and partnership with the Pasco County School District are: 

  • Recruit and retain Saint Leo students and Pasco County Schools employees by eliminating barriers. These barriers include the need to work, adequate benefits, limited after-hours commitments, virtual options, time toward degree completion, and wrap-around support, the grant application states.

  • Apprentice teachers will have a high level of support both academically — including access to Saint Leo tutoring services and the Center for Academic Vision and Excellence — and on the job by offering university supervisors to conduct observations of apprentice teaching throughout each semester. 

    Education Students Engage with Avatars
  • At the school site, they will be supported by a mentor for ongoing check-ins and a supportive colleague who can guide them, monthly release time from the classroom commitment with students to allow apprentice teachers the time to complete their college studies. 

In addition, dual enrollment opportunities are being explored for Pasco’s New Teachers Academies in order to partner with Saint Leo University, allowing high school students to begin their college studies. 

Para-to-Pro Program

Like with Pasco County, the university has long-standing partnerships with district throughout the state, but just a few years ago, Saint Leo started its Para-to-Pro Program, which allows noncertified district employees to remain in the districts where they work while completing their education requirements through Saint Leo to earn a bachelor’s degree and become teachers. The agreements vary in scope, with all providing tuition discounts. In some agreements, Saint Leo will offer classes at a school within the district, while in others, the paraprofessionals will study at one of the university’s Florida education centers and online. 

“Our statewide Para-to-Pro Program has grown from a single partnership with Duval County Schools to more than 23 public, private, and charter schools,” Atkins said. 


Para-to-Pro Program in Hillsborough County

“This is a home-grown approach that is addressing the teacher shortage in Florida. It takes people who are based in the community and allows them to grow, gain a degree, and become teachers.”

Not only does it help generate teachers, but it also helps retain them, the education professor noted. “You have roots there,” Atkins said of the school district employees. “You have an understanding of who the students are in the community. That leads to more success for the [school district’s] students, too.”

In the News

WTVT, Fox 13, featured Saint Leo University and Atkins discussing the state grant and how the partnership will help Pasco County Schools. 

“Hands-on classroom experience is crucial, and Atkins said it feeds into growing your own workforce to meet the need,” Fox 13 reported. 

View the Fox 13 story » 

Hear one graduate of the Para-to-Pro Program’s story »