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GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
UTILIZING PARAPROFESSIONALS TO DELIVER EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS
In one USDA Extension Service program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education
Program (EFNEP) we have been utilizing the paraprofessional position for 17
Today, there is little doubt about the paraprofessional position's
effectiveness in delivering a program to audience which have not been reached
effectively by other methods. I would like to explore the concepts of
programming with paraprofessionals. However, time will not permit us to
discuss all the many facets so I want to introduce just the major components:
(1) Characteristics of the paraprofessional position
(2) Planning programs, delivered by paraprofessionals
(3) Employing paraprofessionals
(4) Training paraprofessionals
(5) Reaching the audience
(6) Teaching the Low-Income Audience
(7) Managing and Supervising the program
(8) Evaluating the program
The value of the paraprofessional position has been conclusively proven in the
last 20 years. The use of paraprofessionals has been an important solution to
a growing demand for more personalized delivery by human services agencies.
The introduction of the paraprofessional position served three purposes. The
first was to rapidly expand a specific function of an educational organiza-
tion, the second, was to provide jobs and career opportunities for unemployed
or underemployed individuals. In recent years, staffing with paraprofes-
sionals has been considered a matter of cost effectiveness. The employment of
professionals to provide personalized education on a one-to-one or small group
basis to large numbers of the clientele is cost-effective.
(1) Characteristics of the Paraprofessional Position
The nature of the program and the characteristics of the community will
determine whether paraprofessionals can be used and what qualities and attri-
butes they need. We have found that paraprofessional recruited from the
target audience, for instance low-income groups are vital to the success of
educational programs for low-income people because they have experienced most
of the problems that low-income families face and they have developed special
skills in coping with and solving those problems.
Presented by Nancy B. Leidenfrost, Program Leader, Home Economics and Human
Nutrition, Extension Service, USDA at the Gender Issues in Farm Systems
Research and Extension Conference February 20 March 1, 1986, Center for
Latin American Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
Involving people from the village community in planning the program (both in
its initial stages and as it progresses) helps ensure success. It is not
necessary to bring such planning groups into a formal organization, committee,
or council to involve them in the program development process.
Starting a new program for a specific audience group will require support from
others in the community. Consider involving individuals outside of the
community who may help to influence people to take action. Through the
involvement of the intended audience and community leaders, obtain community
support to get endorsement for your proposal.
We define a paraprofessional as an individual employed to assist or expand the
effort of professionals. However, a professional should always supervises the
paraprofessional's direct contact with the clientele and their conduct of an
educational program. Most often the successful paraprofessional is indigenous
to the target audience.
(2) Planning Programs Delivered by Paraprofessionals
Conducting an educational program staffed by paraprofessionals requires a more
formal operational structure than working with volunteers. A program that is
delivered by paraprofessionals should have continuity and coordinated
substance and a viable number of paraprofessional positions. There is greater
productivity if a single, multi-faceted program is carried out by a number of
aides even if they are located in different geographic locations. It also is
easier to manage a structured program and to measure its effectiveness. Such
a program will have greater visibility and recognized impact, which may also
have some effect on its future funding.
The first step in starting a program is to assess the needs of an audience and
establish that the program is need. This kind of inquiry itself should create
a positive response among the intended participants and it should become a
recurring activity after the initial program is implemented.
The concept of involving the audience to bring about changes in attitudes and
behavior are central to the success of the program.
Assessing and defining the need for a program includes both compiling existing
data and gathering new information from the audience, the village, and the
wider community. The use of a needs assessment guide is often helpful to
identify the needs of the audience and in understanding them and to establish
the characteristics of the community. Needs assessment can identify a
situation that will point out the need for such a program, and the information
can be used to justify and provide support for its objectives. Community
endorsement of a program is often the key to success and a necessary factor
for obtaining resources and support.
One must have knowledge of the local culture, practices, services. Knowledge
of other community based programs may be helpful in establishing a program.
Essential elements of program planning are establishing program goals and
objectives, as well as the supervisor and paraprofessional roles and
functions. These are necessary tasks to build a comprehensive program.
Sometimes it is easier to think of a specific and measurable long-range goal
first and then identify a series of short-term objectives.
(3) Employing Paraprofessionals
Before recruiting, one needs to learn about the prevalent culture, employment
practices and policies.
A job description is an important management tool. Establish one for each
kind of job in the program. Job descriptions help the employee understand the
nature and responsibilities of their job. They help the supervisor keep the
program on target, and can serve as a vehicle for program accountability. A
typical job description could include: title of the job; purpose of the
position; major duties and responsibilities and the relationships of the
position to the supervisory structure.
(4) Training Paraprofessional
Unlike professionals, paraprofessionals receive most of their formal training
for the position on the job. Initial and on-the-job training for paraprofes-
sionals must be carefully designed for the program to be successful and
The day to day supervising professional will need to understand the culture
and the community structure and have a practical knowledge of the subject
matter, a working knowledge of how to teach, or train paraprofessionals, how
to implement program outreach and delivery methods and how to plan for
An in-service training program for paraprofessionals should cover:
organization structure; objectives and intended results of the program;
subject-matter content; program delivery methods -- how to teach, recruit
participants, assess their needs and their progress.
Paraprofessionals often have limited formal training. In-service training for
paraprofessionals is essential. The first is initial training, when the new
worker is employed and during the early stages on the job, and second is
on-the-job training throughout the employment period.
In training paraprofessionals each participant needs an opportunity to
practice and participate in all learning experiences and to get individual
help as needed.
Initial training that is too brief may later mean more intensive on-the-job
training and a need for closer supervision. Presenting abstract ideas and
facts about a subject will not be enough; time to develop and practice skills
will be essential. Provide for realistic situations in which principles can
be pointed out.
Keep training short and fairly frequent at first. Initial training should
also include field visits, and practical experience in recruiting and
teaching. Such experience should be followed by a session to appraise the
situation, make observations, and examine the results. Training might then
continue with subject matter and methods, interspersed with practical
experiences at the program site.
Subject-matter that is intended to be taught to the program participant should
be part of both the initial and the ongoing training.
Observing paraprofessionals at work probably gives the professional the best
information about the effectiveness of the training and where additional help
is needed. One needs to observe both subject mastery and interaction with the
participants and to be precise when suggesting areas that need strengthening.
Be ready to demonstrate how to do new techniques so paraprofessional will see
and hear the suggestions.
Training is never completed. Personal growth is one of the satisfactions
derived from work. On-the-job training should build on the competencies
developed during initial training and early work experience. A review of the
paraprofessional's knowledge can identify what future training is needed.
Training for paraprofessionals is usually scheduled once a week early in their
employment less frequently after the first 6 months. However, training should
be distinguished from counseling, which should be done whenever necessary.
(5) Reaching Audience
In working with low-income audiences the need to actively recruit can be
time-consuming and costly. Recruitment is most effective when it is done in
person on a one-to-one basis, or when it is accomplished through referrals
from former or current program participants in other programs. Recruiting the
intended audience may be easier, where respect for the program is established
and the objective understood.
One needs to be realistic about the size of the geographic areas assigned to
each paraprofessional as well as the number of potential audience living
Practice the introduction of the program to different audiences with the
paraprofessional. One of the first face-to-face contacts a paraprofessional
has with a potential client will be to introduce the program. They need to
know what to say about the program to make a favorable impression on potential
participants. A handout leaflet for the intended audience will help the
paraprofessional explain all aspects of the program.
In a one to one teaching situation mutually agreeable date and time for a
second teaching situation should be scheduled before the paraprofessional
concludes a first visit. This is important to provide continuity and to
establish a working relationship.
(6) Teachina the Low-Income Audience
In order to teach the audience, the paraprofessionals need to review or
acquire a realistic expectation and understanding of the program audience and
to appreciate the fact that different people have different values.
Paraprofessionals must distinguish between needs which the program can meet
and those it cannot.
The paraprofessional's observation skills are also important. Observations
are needed to analyze the client's changed behavior practices and acquire
To teach effectively the paraprofessional needs to know how to listen. They
need to develop skills in listening for clues in the questions, problems, and
values expressed by participants.
The paraprofessional needs to be taught to be explicit in giving instructions.
They have to explain all the details, use many illustrations, repeat often,
summarize several times and have learners explain what they heard or
Other practices which support the learning process are: to involve the
learners in doing and to include the participant in the activity as soon as
possible. -Professionals and paraprofessionals need to understand that all
talk and-no action delays the participant's involvement may kill interest.
Picture or very simple symbols can go a long way for non-readers. The para-
professional needs to know how to plan for success and to be able to recognize
it no matter how small. The participant also should experience success -- no
matter how small -- as quickly as possible.
The one-to-one teaching methods has been proved to be one of the most effec-
tive ways to reach low-income audiences. This clientele requires much indi-
vidual attention and encouragement. Since learning is faster in familiar
surroundings, this kind of teaching is usually done in the individual's home
or in a familiar setting. In one-to-one teaching, the learner is the focus of
attention and the teaching is related to the individual's needs. This per-
sonalized approach helps build rapport and increases feedback that helps the
paraprofessional assess both needs and progress.
Paraprofessionals will also need to develop skills in teaching in small
groups. The best way to counsel them is to observe their skills while they
conduct one on one, cluster group, small groups or large group teaching
In training paraprofessionals, it is best to introduce delivery methods one at
a time, giving them a chance to practice each. If paraprofessionals under-
stand a variety of methods, they probably will use a variety when they teach.
(7) Managing and Supervising the Program
The responsibility of the supervisor should include employing, training,
day-to-day supervising, and may also include the authority to dismiss para-
professionals. The supervisor's authority will depend on the institutions'
organization and these responsibilities should be clearly defined and made
known to all persons involved.
The goals of a supervisor are to increase productivity, eliminate problems,
and reduce failures. The supervisor need to be involved in the overall
planning for the best results. To this end the supervisor will select emplo-
yees, train them well, counsel them when necessary, and be willing to modify
plans to fit new needs.
Employee morale, although intangible, is important to accomplishing the
program objective. Characteristics of the work place, as well as other job
factors, must be considered in order to understand why paraprofessionals are
satisfied or dissatisfied with their work. Workers usually begin with high
morale. During the first year it may drop, but as length of service increases
morale tends to go up again.
The organizational structure can contribute to job satisfaction through its
attitude toward workers and the size of the program effort. The respect which
the program commands in the community and its training programs also contri-
bute to job satisfaction as well as the commitment to the audience it serves
and the way the program is implemented. The positive approach to supervision
entails employing the right people, involving them in setting standards, and
providing adequate training.
The supervisor should receive training in different kinds of management
methods. Also training in counseling techniques, successful counseling should
result in a closer relationship between the supervisor and the paraprofes-
sional, it should improve the work environment and strengthen the program.
It cannot be assumed that a professional knows how to train paraprofessionals.
Consequently initial and on-the-job training may be necessary for profes-
Performance appraisals for paraprofessional should be conducted systemati-
cally. Recognition for outstanding performance may be given in the form of
group or individual awards. Individual rewards are difficult to av.ard among
employees who have the same job performance, but special instances of innova-
tive action can be singled out for recognition. A certificate of appreciation
could be presented for a special assignment.
In conclusion, just a few words about overall program evaluation.
This type of assessment will help to decide if the program is still needed,
moving in the right direction, achieving its objective and serving a purpose.
Before the program is implemented, measurable criteria should be established
to set the desirable level of achievement for the participants and for the
organization. The results of an evaluation also may be valuable for making
judgments about the program's effectiveness.
The paraprofessional should be involved in evaluating the progress of the
participants periodically. It will have to be determined if the participants
adopted the practices that the paraprofessional taught or to what degree they
have adopted the practice.
The program assessment should be a systematical procedure. First, define the
goals) in measurable terms. Second, establish a "benchmark" which documents
where the learner is relative to the program goals. The distance between
where the learner is and the goals to be reached should determine the nature,
frequency, and intensiveness of the teaching/learning situations. The monitor-
ing and documentation of the teaching/learning situation should show the rate
of progress and the improvement the participant has made. If the rate of
progress is not reasonable, teaching methods, techniques, frequency of
instruction, participant interests, and commitment to program objectives need
to be re-examined.
These thoughts on the work with paraprofessional has been demonstrated in USDA
Extension Service's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. They have
also been shared with International Extension Contacts.