Madera Unified educator becomes 1st in state to finish free teaching credential program

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Madera Unified educator is making history. She's the very first in California to earn her teaching credential through a free college program.

Para-professional Shelly Smith has worked for Madera Unified for 18 years. She currently works with special needs students at Nishimoto Elementary.

"Every day, I'm in the classroom," said Smith. "I go usually from classroom to classroom."

It was over a year ago, she received an email that changed her life.

"I emailed her right away and asked a bunch of questions because I thought free? Are we sure?" said Smith. "I always feel like there's some kind of catch and there was not. It is a free education."

The email explained the free college program provided to members of the CSEA labor union and allowed smith the chance to pursue her dream, getting a bachelors degree.

"I just remember saying you can do this," said Madera Unified District Coach for Culture and Climate Marlo Haupt. "You have all the tools you need to do this. It's just a matter of getting that piece of paper."

She hit the ground running, through the peak of pandemic holding Zoom sessions for her students while hitting the books in between. A year and a half later, she's the first in the state to finish her degree at Central State University in Ohio.

"I'd always tell her Shelly you got to go to school to be a teacher," added Haupt. "You're great as a paraprofessional but you could have your own classroom, you could be in charge of your own 30 littles."

She may be the first, but Smith says she definitely won't be the last.

"It's an example for my children," said Smith. "I have daughters, but I also think other paras and classified staff in my position, I can inspire them too."

Smith says she hope to have a classroom of her own by the next school year.
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