Opinion: Education makes a difference at all stages of life

When my youngest child started school, I found myself in a new stage of life.

I had been a stay-at-home mom and wasn’t sure how to re-enter the workforce. I decided to start by volunteering at my children’s school, and I became hooked. I quickly went from volunteering to working as a paraprofessional, and I have been with the Western Dubuque School District for several years now.

Like many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed me into a new stage of life as well. Throughout and since the pandemic, there have been virtually no substitute teachers available, so I got my substitute authorization to help the district.

Being in front of the classroom just felt right. It was during this time that Clarke University gave a presentation about their Accelerated Elementary Education Degree at my school, and it felt like fate. With their online program, I could earn my teaching degree in 18 months while working full-time.

I enrolled with 14 other area paraprofessionals in the first cohort in the summer of 2022, and we quickly became a little family.

The instructors have been incredibly supportive and bring fresh ideas to each class. Even though the program is mostly online, we are all able to share ideas and resources with one another. Those connections have translated into real friendships in the community, too.

That’s not to say the return to school always was easy. I had to adjust to working two jobs and raising two children who were involved in football, track and field, and other activities.

As so many women can attest, there were days when the “mom guilt” felt overwhelming. I’ve learned to let go of things like the occasional missed appointment or a floor in need of mopping. Life happens, and you can only control so much.

Thankfully, my husband has been a huge source of support, and at 13 and 18, my children can help around the house. They’ve had to make adjustments but have been so helpful.

I think my return to school also has helped them envision a future for themselves. Seeing me dedicate time to school and get real results has made them consider college in a new way.

I’m a year into my program now and with each lesson, it reaffirms my decision. When you see students go all-in on an activity, whether it is kindergarteners learning about bats or third-grade mathematics, you can feel the difference you are making.

I just can’t wait to see what comes next.

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