Laura Manriquez, who won a grant to help cover the cost of getting a teaching credential, working with kindergarteners at Aliso Elementary.

Classroom veteran looks forward to being a teacher

By Laura L. Manriquez

I recently became aware of an opportunity to obtain financial assistance in earning a teaching credential through the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, which is intended to attract classified staff who are interested in becoming teachers.

California is facing a shortage of qualified teachers, and I see this as an opportunity to do my part in helping to close that gap by educating the young students in my community as a credentialed teacher. So, with renewed hope, I submitted my application in the anticipation of possibly receiving assistance with tuition, textbook costs, and student fees. I was pleased to be chosen for participation in the program, and I am moving forward with my plan to earn a California Multiple Subject teaching credential. This is a huge step forward in realizing my dream.

My journey to becoming an educator began when my family’s financial situation required me to return to work after my youngest child entered kindergarten. Prior to that, my associate’s degree in fine art had led me to be a staff artist at a newspaper, and later a graphic designer, art director, commercial illustrator, owner of a design and marketing firm, and even a faculty member at a local trade college.

“The union officers have worked tirelessly for me personally on more than one occasion, and I continue to appreciate their courage and dedicated support. I trust my union, and knowing that it advocated for this program encouraged me to apply.”

But eventually, my career took a back seat to my role as mother, and I wanted a job that would allow me to be available to my two young children before and after their days at grade school. So I became an instructional assistant in 2000, working part-time at Aliso Elementary School in the Carpinteria Unified School District, a job I have held continuously since then. There I learned about child development, multiple intelligences, inquiry-based learning, classroom management, and much more.

After two years in the school system, I saw that students were exposed to very little enrichment in the arts and sciences and I realized that my skillset could help fill that gap. I became an instructor for various after-school programs in public schools, private schools, and special enrichment programs sponsored by the city or the arts council, and designed and wrote curriculum for the courses.

Often I worked at two or three schools daily, commuting within a 50-mile radius. At night, after helping my kids with homework and preparing dinner, I would stay up late preparing for the next day’s work; first as an instructional assistant each morning and then as an enrichment instructor each afternoon.

Teachers and parents encouraged me to offer more, and in 2002, I created Kids Love Art!, an enrichment program held during spring, summer and winter breaks in Carpinteria. This made for a year-round schedule of dizzying proportions. As the program’s popularity grew, I added science and engineering to the curriculum.

Kids Love Art! operated until 2014 and reached many local students, something that continues to be a source of personal pride for me. As it wound down, I reentered college, attending CSU Channel Islands to earn a bachelor’s in fine art. Three years and $30,000 of student debt later, I graduated magna cum laude. Fifteen more units of early childhood education earned me a Child Development Permit as a master teacher and site supervisor.

During that time, I often thought about earning a teaching credential, believing that my skills as an educator after 17 years in the classroom could be put to best use as a credentialed teacher, only to realize it was out of reach considering the student loans I already carried.

Then, I learned from the Santa Barbara County Classified Credentialing Consortium that, through the Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, funding was available for eligible applicants to receive up to $3,300 per year for up to five years.

I also learned that the CFT, a parent to my local union, was instrumental in obtaining funding in the state Legislature for this important program. My local, the Carpinteria Association of the United School Employees, AFT Local 2216, has been an indispensible employee advocate in my district during the years I have been employed as an educator. The union officers have worked tirelessly for me personally on more than one occasion, and I continue to appreciate their courage and dedicated support. I trust my union, and knowing that it advocated for this program encouraged me to apply.

So, I’m sending a wish for the best of luck to all classified employees who want to earn a teaching credential, and I encourage you to follow your dream by applying for the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program if it’s available in your district or county. In following this dream, teachers can help so many others realize the dream of a high-quality education and therefore, a higher quality life.

Laura Manriquez is an instructional assistant at Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria and a member of the Carpinteria Association of the United School Employees, AFT Local 2216.