Teresa Torres always wanted to be a teacher, but she wasn’t sure how she would get there.

“Having two kids and trying to work, trying to provide for them while getting my own education, that wouldn’t have been possible for me,” Torres said.

But then she learned of the new Teacher / Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeships being offered at Storm Lake Community School District. Storm Lake was one of 134 districts to receive $45.6 million in state grants earlier this year to cover educational costs and part of the salaries for new apprentice teachers and paraeducators. The program is expected to eventually add more than 500 teachers and 500 paraeducators across Iowa – including Torres, whose lifelong ambition has been to make the same impact on a young life that a long-ago 4th-grade reading teacher made on hers.

This is realistic,” she said. “I’m able to get my education, be on the same schedule as my children, be off on time to pick them up, and still be able to do my own school work.”

Iowa Workforce Development toured a Storm Lake elementary school last week as part of a preparation of National Apprenticeship Week, which began November 14. Storm Lake has partnered with Buena Vista University to allow apprentices to obtain their own instruction built around daily duties inside a district classroom.

“With this, I am just able to come in after my (morning) classes at the high school,” said high school senior and paraeducator apprentice Vianney Medina. “I’m really getting a lot of practice.”

Stacey Cole, superintendent for Storm Lake Community School District, described the apprenticeships as a new pathway that will help the district alleviate longstanding teacher shortages while also opening the door for many wonderful district employees who might not have been able to follow the traditional path to an education career.

“The end goal is that they come out with the same degree with a similar level of rigor,” she said. “But you’re just recognizing that you get to that rigor in different ways.”

“These are people who know our kids,” Barb Lang, principal at Storm Lake Elementary School, said of the apprentices. “They’ve been in our system. They know the ins and outs of what works. They’re naturals  (to work for Storm Lake)."

Iowa’s rapid expansion of apprenticeship programs means Iowans now can select from 890 different apprenticeships across the state, many connected to local high schools. For more information, visit www.EarnAndLearnIowa.gov. Iowa employers seeking to get involved in apprenticeships also can contact IWD by emailing iaworks@iwd.iowa.gov or calling 1-833-469-2967.