GVSU student thrives in accelerated degree program, plans to earn teaching certification
August 28, 2023
GVSU student Brittany Palmer has worked with adults with developmental disabilities for more than a decade. Now, state funding will help her advance her career to be a special education teacher.
Palmer is a teaching assistant at the Life Skills Center, a regional center operated by Northwest Education Services that serves students 16-26 who have moderate or severe cognitive disabilities. Her job responsibilities include helping students learn vocational skills, money management, plus daily living skills like doing laundry.
Northwest Education Services has received a state grant from the “Grow Your Own” program to provide funding to paraprofessionals like Palmer who want to earn a teaching certificate.
“I found I have a passion for the special needs community,” said Palmer, 33, who also has experience working at an adult foster care home. “I enjoy the passion they have for life.
“I’m really the lucky one. They have taught me how to be grateful and present.” Palmer earned an associate degree from Northwestern Michigan College, after receiving funding to finish the degree through Michigan Reconnect, which pays the cost of community college tuition for eligible adults. Palmer added the Michigan Reconnect application process was easy. She was then assigned an advisor and success coach.
“It was scary to think about going back to school at my age,” Palmer said. “I never did well in some classes before. NMC was a very easy transition as an adult in college, then I transferred to Grand Valley. NMC gave me the confidence in my skills that I needed, and Grand Valley is helping me refine those skills and take them to another level.”
At Grand Valley, Palmer enrolled in LEADS, an accelerated bachelor’s degree program with flexibility to meet the needs of working adults. She said as an integrative studies major, many of her online classes involve content that is topical and applicable to leadership and work settings.
“It was challenging at first to start the program, but I found I was more energized in the LEADS program because it’s content I’m passionate about,” she said. “I can apply my work experience to class discussions and vice versa.”
Learning to make time for homework in the evenings was a bit of a process, Palmer said.
“I come home from work and do my homework or log into my classes after dinner. Sometimes I do miss out on the fun things, but I remember it’s only temporary,” she said. “Everyone at Life Skills is very supportive. And so is my husband, who sometimes brings me dinner here in our home office.”
Palmer has three more semesters before graduating. When she completes a bachelor’s degree, there are ample state programs that offer financial assistance for people who are seeking a teaching certificate. She said that partly drove her decision to do the initial step of earning a bachelor’s degree.
“There’s a significant teaching shortage and there is money from the state to help to go back to school. This is the right decision for my family; there was no reason to say ‘no,’” Palmer said.
By Michele Coffill