December 14, 2023

Robbyn DeSpain, Director of Strategic Communications

18-Year Paraprofessional Highlights First Online Elementary Education Class

Sarah Lambert, a paraprofessional in Echols County Schools, is a member of the first Online Elementary Education graduating class at VSU.


VALDOSTA, Ga. – Sometimes in life, timing is everything. Just ask Sarah Lambert, a member of the first graduating class of the Online Elementary Education program offered through Valdosta State University’s Online College for Career Advancement. She participated in VSU’s 236 Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

It may have taken Lambert 18 years to get her bachelor’s degree, but she knew her life’s calling when she was 5 or 6 years old.

“I was the kid who went home and lined up the baby dolls and wrote on the chalkboard,” recalls Lambert. “I loved going home from school and acting like I was the teacher.”

But being the student was difficult for Lambert, who struggled in school.

“My passion to be a teacher comes from school never being easy for me growing up,” said Lambert. “I was always up until 1 or 2 in the morning, but I still wasn’t getting it. My teachers would call my parents and tell them I needed to study, and they would tell the teacher I am studying.”

Lambert worked hard in the classroom and graduated from Lowndes High School. She briefly considered a career in nursing, but decided to return to her first love, teaching. She began working in the Head Start system in Lowndes County and decided to attend VSU to get her bachelor’s degree. But Lambert couldn’t pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE), an admission requirement then from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

“After failing the GACE, I realized I had test anxiety,” said Lambert. “I decided to get my associate degree and become a paraprofessional, so I could still be in the classroom.”

Lambert and her family moved to Echols County, where she continued to work as a paraprofessional at the elementary school. Everything changed for her in 2021 when VSU launched its Online College for Career Advancement.

“My sister-in-law is a kindergarten teacher at Dewar Elementary in Lowndes County,” said Lambert. “She saw that VSU was offering an online elementary education degree, and she immediately sent it to me.”

Lambert called VSU right away and began the process of enrolling in the first cohort. That meant trying to pass the GACE once again.

“It took me three times taking the GACE to finally pass it, to be able to get into this program,” said Lambert. “I just kept working at it, and it happened when it was meant to happen.”

Dr. Debbie Paine is the department head in the Department of Teacher Education at VSU.

“VSU is here to make sure you earn that degree,” said Paine. “But at the same time, we’re going to make sure that you’re meeting all the Georgia Professional Standards Commission requirements, so that when you leave with your degree from VSU, you also have met all the certification requirements from the PSC.“

Fourteen students were part of the first graduating cohort from the online elementary education program. For those who were paraprofessionals, VSU worked with their school districts to ensure required practicum hours were completed.

“If I had to quit being a paraprofessional to get my degree, I would have lost my insurance,” said Lambert. “My husband owns his own business, so we depend on my insurance. This program at VSU works great if you’re already a paraprofessional. You can work it out with your school, and you can do both.”

Lambert says she never thought it would take 18 years to get her degree, but the timing has been perfect.

“I’m glad things didn’t work out when my kids were younger. Now my son is older, my daughter is older, and they are seeing that no matter how old you are, you are never too old to chase your dream.”

Lambert will continue with her paraprofessional work for the remainder of this academic year. She is looking forward to being a teacher and helping all her students, especially those who also struggle with school.

“When I have a student who isn’t getting it, I completely understand. That’s where my heart goes because I’ve been there too.”

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