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Ritu V. Chopra

Executive Director, PAR2A Center & Assistant Research Professor

My Story:

I grew up in India as the youngest of four children. Both of my parents devoted their entire lives to the field of education - my father was an administrator in the department of education in one of the states of India and my mother was a trained teacher. My parents were very actively involved in our education, always supporting and encouraging us. Ever since I was in the elementary school, I dreamed of making a difference by working in the field of education and I consider myself very fortunate to have realized that dream.

Before I came to the United States in 1990, I had over 10 years of professional experience in my native country, India, as a high school teacher and coordinator of projects that provided training to grassroots-level early childhood education workers, school professionals and administrators. In the US, after struggling in the job market for a few years as someone who had two master's degrees from an "underdeveloped country", I finally enrolled in our school's doctoral program in Educational Leadership and Innovation with a focus on Integrated Services for Families and Children. During my second semester in the doctoral program, Dr. Nancy French, the founder of the Paraprofessional Resource and Research (PAR2A), hired me as a graduate assistant on a project that studied the role of paraprofessionals in inclusion. This was the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life and my initiation into the field of paraprofessionals. Seventeen years later, as the Center grew and developed, I have grown along with it and I currently hold the position of the Executive Director of the Center. It has been an amazing journey and I still believe that accepting that graduate assistant position 17 years ago was one of the best decisions of my life.

My Work at University of Colorado Denver:

Our Center is the premier source of information for educational paraprofessionals (paraeducators) in Colorado and beyond. The Center houses a variety of projects that are funded from national, state and local sources and focused on policies and practices regarding the employment of paraeducators in regular education, special education, English language acquisition, Title I programs, and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities. We consider paraprofessionals as vital members of the educational teams and believe that their employers must support and utilize them effectively. Our mission at the PAR​2A Center is to advocate for paraprofessionals and develop policies and guidelines through a) research on the roles, responsibilities, career development, preparation, supervision, and employment of paraprofessionals and b) preparation and training of paraprofessionals and professionals who supervise them. We strongly believe that paraprofessionals who are adequately trained and supervised have a major role in making optimum learning possible for all students. Collaboration and inclusion of all students in schools is the underlying philosophy of all the work that we do.

I currently serve as the Principal Investigator on three personnel preparation projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs and two Transition to Teaching projects funded by the Office of Innovation and Improvement. My most gratifying accomplishment has been designing and implementing programs through multiple grant-funded projects that have provided opportunities, supports and incentives to paraprofessionals and other non-traditional students (e.g. mid-career changers and culturally diverse candidates who typically lack easy access to education) to become teachers to serve students in some of the most challenging and diverse schools. 

My Research Interests:

  • Paraprofessional Issues (Training, Supervision, and Utilization)
  • Parent Involvement and Empowerment
  • Collaboration for Inclusive practices
  • Leadership in inclusive schools
  • Pipelines and pathways to teaching for non-traditional candidates

My Hobbies:

I love cooking. Of course, I am most comfortable with cooking Indian food but I do a fairly decent job at cooking dishes from other parts of the world. I like to collect cookbooks but very rarely follow recipes - I like to experiment and adapt recipes to create my own and the results are typically well appreciated by my family and friends. Someday, I hope to write a cookbook of quick and healthy one dish meals!

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