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Para to Teacher Scholarship awarded to Lehigh Middle’s Jackson

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jun 16, 2021

Suncoast Credit Union representative Melissa Dean, Paraprofessional Elsie Jackson, Lehigh Acres Middle School Principal Dr. Brian Gibson and Executive Director of Leadership and Professional Development Lynn Herrell. PHOTO PROVIDED


Two Para to Teacher Scholarships were awarded this year to paraprofessionals at Lehigh Acres Middle and Skyline Elementary, giving them an opportunity to finish their degrees and become a teacher.

Elsie Jackson, an educational paraprofessional at Lehigh Acres Middle, began working at the school three days before winter break began. As a spiritual person, she said places speak to her, which is what LAMS did.

“I chose this place to sign up for . . . to become a help and give my skills and services. Yes, they picked me, but I chose them first. I am where I belong,” Jackson said.

She is beyond excited that she was chosen to participate in the 2021 Suncoast Paraprofessional to Teacher Scholarship.

“I am grateful and thankful. It’s amazing. It seemed like a long time, but I am here and I am back on track and these kids remind me daily of what my goal is, what the reason is. It’s all for them as well. It’s about building their future, so they can be who they can be as well,” Jackson said. “The district is helping me become a teacher. I am a teacher from heart, a counselor from heart, that social worker at heart. I have to have that document. I appreciate the school district offering me that chance.”

This scholarship is for current paraprofessionals, who have an associates degree, and are interested in pursuing a degree in teaching. As a paraprofessional, Jackson assists instructional staff in meeting a student’s academic needs.

Suncoast Credit Union Foundation helps paraprofessionals by providing a scholarship, so they, too, can lead their own classrooms as a teacher. The foundation has provided $150,000 in scholarships for paraprofessionals, as well as seniors, who are committed to becoming teachers for the Lee County School district.

As a scholarship recipient they are eligible for paid internships with the district while studying. The recipients must renew the scholarship for their second year of school and, once they graduate, they pledge to teach in the district for at least three years.

“This is what I enjoy . . . helping people become better people. It starts with our kids. Who do we want taking care of us when we become older? We have to teach them so they will know,” Jackson said.

Jackson will attend Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall.

“To receive an email letting me know you can’t give up, you have to keep going, helps me to teach what I experience,” Jackson said. “You can’t give up. Life happens, but you can’t give up. Finances happen, but you can’t give up.”

One of her mottos, “Everything we give out, it comes back to us. What you sow is what you are going to get back and more” has truly spoken to her.

“It is important to leave something behind for them,” Jackson said of the students.

Jackson said when she first started at LAMS she became familiar with the students’ backgrounds, as well as their experience, which helped her in helping them.

“You have to look at the whole picture holistically. You cannot judge based on what you see, period,” she said.

A statement that her principal says has stuck with her, “broken crayons still color.”

“We can all be broken, but we still have skill, talent, that sense of humor, that personality necessary to hep. We still have energy to help that next person,” Jackson said.

She truly believes being at LAMS is the right place for her to grow.

Her time at LAMS has been a great experience due to everyone working together. Jackson said it’s important when everyone works together because some of the students experience drama at home, or have behavior problems.

“The support system we have from the principals, assistant principals, teachers and security . . . you have to know how to handle these kids and the relationships. The relationships they build for these students is impeccable,” she said.

The other recipient is Danielle Holmquist, a paraprofessional at Skyline Elementary School. She is excited to be one of the two local recipients of the 2021 Suncoast Paraprofessional to Teacher Scholarship.

“I am still in total shock. It’s still something that I replay in my head over and over again. It doesn’t seem like it is a for sure thing. Definitely, I am way honored. I don’t know how many applied for it, but for someone to appreciate my essay enough to award me money to go to school is a really big honor and humbled me. It is really cool. I am really excited and really fortunate,” she said.

Holmquist will attend Florida SouthWestern State College this fall.

“I think it is enjoying the ride to get there. Stay in the moment and see where your path takes you. I am excited to be able to get on the roller coaster at this moment,” she said.

With FSW offering both morning and evening classes, Holmquist is excited she’ll be able to continue working at Skyline while taking classes at night.

Holmquist is a paraprofessional in social functioning in an Exceptional Student Education self-contained classroom. She said she has worked with Mr. (Zachary) Clifford for the last three years, going into their fourth year. Holmquist works with second and third graders.

“We work together. We have about 10 kids in our classroom this year. I help out and provide support wherever it is needed,” she said.

Holmquist said she loves her job and loves what she does.

“I like being with the kids. I always had this goal to finish my degree. I have an AA degree,” she said of stopping there because she did not have a direction or know what she wanted to do. “I love the people that I work with and No. 1 is the kids. They are extremely funny. They have so many great ideas and they are very literal. They are very loving and accepting.”

With being in the district at Skyline Elementary School has really shown her how she wants to finish her education.

“It”s a great way to finish my education and hopefully make a difference in someone’s life. Any career where you are helping other people is very rewarding for both parties,” Holmquist said.