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Grant Helps Catapult Teacher to the Head of the Class

When she joined Kalamazoo RESA in 2016, Ann-Marie Breese was aTeacher Ann-Marie posing with a student part-time classroom aide at WoodsEdge Learning Center. It wasn’t long before Breese realized she had the desire and compassion necessary to lead her own classroom full of students. With some encouragement from her teacher and mentor Megan Pajtas, Breese took the leap. “I had three teenaged kids at home. Money was flowing out the door, and I decided to go back to school,” she said.

Help from the Kalamazoo RESA Foundation’s Targeted Assistance Grant (TAG) made the seemingly impossible possible. Breese applied for the grant, which was designed to help KRESA employees who want to become early childhood or special education teachers. She received the award in 2019 and again in 2020. In May 2021, Breese graduated summa cum laude from Grand Canyon University – a full 18 months ahead of schedule.

“TAG allowed me to double up on classes and accelerate my graduation date,” Breese said. “It compensated for lost wages during student teaching so I could focus on finishing my degree.”

Now, Breese is teaching kindergarten through third grade in a classroom for severely multiply impaired students at WoodsEdge.
“It’s amazing to have my own classroom,” she said. “I’m still learning a lot, but I couldn’t love it more. I’m honored to work in that building. It’s such a fantastic environment. I feel appreciated because KRESA is invested in our success and growth.”

Even with a classroom to call her own, Breese plans to continue her education. She’s already started a master’s program in autism spectrum disorders. “I’m really proud of how far I’ve come,” Breese said. “I had some college credits but no degree. At 42, I decided to do something completely different.”

The connected and caring staff, and the appreciation from her students and their families inspires Breese to keep with it, even when circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic make things tough.
“What we do is so important,” she said. “I can’t envision myself working anywhere else.”

Passionate teachers like Breese are needed now more than ever. Michigan schools are currently experiencing a critical shortage of teachers, said KRESA assistant superintendent of Human Resources Tom Zahrt. “Retirements are up while the number of new teachers graduating from college is down. We need qualified teachers in our special education and early childhood programs, especially.”

The TAG program was created to help KRESA “grow our own” highly qualified educators, Zahrt said. “We already employ many paraprofessionals in our classrooms who would make excellent teachers. TAG helps them to cover their expenses to make that happen,” he said. Funds may be used for tuition and books or related expenses, like a new computer or childcare, Zahrt said. “The grant is meant to remove those barriers that come up in the reality of everyday life.”

Since 2016, the KRESA Foundation has awarded 20 employees nearly $78,000 in Targeted Assistance Grants.

Breese recommends the TAG program to any KRESA employee who is interested in earning a degree in early childhood or special education. “It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in. Apply for assistance through TAG, and KRESA will do everything they can to encourage and assist you.”

For more information about the Kalamazoo RESA Foundation and its TAG program, visit

Aug. 30, 2021