University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus


Fall 2023

Campus Magazine

Project Parasol

By Georgia Jackson, University Communications and Marketing

Professors Sara Smith, Terry Osborn and Connie Walker-Egea of the University of South Florida College of Education received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to build a pathway for 60 ESOL paraprofessionals to earn degrees, teaching certifications and ESOL endorsements from USF and, ultimately, secure teaching positions in the School District of Manatee County.

The initiative, titled “Project Parasol: English Speakers of Other Languages Paraprofessional to Teacher Pipeline,” will increase the number of highly qualified bilingual teachers in the district, which serves more than 52,000 students across 65 schools, by providing paraprofessionals with a viable pathway to a postsecondary education.  

“We are seeing an increase in our linguistically diverse population as well as a shortage of teachers who are prepared to work with students whose first language is not English,” said Osborn, a professor of education on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. “This grant enables us to continue to fulfill the public mission we have in educating all the students of Florida.” 

Brett Kemker, regional vice chancellor and vice provost for academic affairs and student success on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, called the project an “excellent example” of the many ways in which the Sarasota-Manatee campus and the College of Education create successful partnerships with local school districts to meet community needs.

According to Randi Latzke, an associate professor of instruction and coordinator for USF’s award-winning elementary education program, the grant could not have come at a 
better time. 

“Project Parasol provides an innovative approach to systematically recruiting new teachers who will have the skills needed to meet the varied challenges of today’s student population, while decreasing barriers that might limit some potential teachers from preparing for the profession,” Latzke said.

Deans Anthony Rolle and Cheryl Ellerbrock are thrilled by the partnership. “Through this program, these paraprofessionals will receive the coursework and support needed to make the transition to highly qualified bilingual elementary classroom teachers upon successful graduation from the program,” Ellerbrock said. 

Securing highly effective ESOL teachers is critical to student achievement across the state of Florida, where English learners make up around 10% of students enrolled in public schools and there is a shortage of ESOL teachers, and beyond. Over 5.1 million English learners were enrolled in U.S. public schools in the fall of 2019.

Smith, the principal investigator for the project and an assistant professor of ESOL and foreign language education on the Tampa campus, hopes to turn Project Parasol into a scalable program that can be replicated in other districts across the state of Florida and the country.  
“I believe Project Parasol can serve as a model for how districts can grow their pool of teachers from the outstanding talent already present in their schools,” said Smith.  

Project Parasol’s first cohort started in the summer of 2023 and will begin coursework at USF in January of 2024, with a second cohort expected to follow in the fall of 2024.  

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this grant, for this program and for the work that we can do to help students,” Osborn said.

Like its title suggests, the project will provide umbrella-like protection to the 60 participants as they embark on their journey to become certified teachers. The title is also a nod to “paras,” the nickname often given to paraprofessionals.  

“In a sense, we are protecting them from stresses and challenges to help them in their journey to become a classroom teacher, just as a parasol protects from the sun,” said Smith. “We also wanted a name that works well in Spanish and English.” 

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About Sarasota-Manatee Campus Magazine

Momentum is published by USF Research and Innovation and the Office of University Communications and Marketing on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The University of South Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities, is a high-impact research university with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.