Emergent bilingual students now make up 10 percent of the state’s K-12 student population. These students are learning English on top of their regular school subjects, yet many Oregon teachers don’t have the specialized training or certification to meet their needs. But that’s changing.

Thanks to a new, 5-year, $2.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to Oregon State’s College of Education, more Oregon teachers will soon be able to earn their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement without having to pay the $10,000 tuition. The grant will also help these teachers work with community resources to build bridges with families of emergent bilingual students.

The TEAMS approach to multilingual education

Known as TEAMS (Teachers Educating All Multilingual Students), the new program will train 80 teachers in the Beaverton, Bend-La Pine, Springfield, Greater Albany and Corvallis school districts to better understand the languages, families and community cultures of their students.

“We know that if teachers don’t have the proper training to support emergent bilingual students, they are not as academically successful,” says María Leija, an Oregon State instructor and TEAMS grant coordinator. “Teachers don’t need to know their students’ languages, but they do need to understand the components of human language — syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonology and morphology — and the resources that are available to support them.”

For example, a Spanish-speaking student might spell the word coyote with two Ls instead of a Y because a double L in Spanish is pronounced the same as a Y in English. Knowing these linguistic nuances, a teacher can better help students understand errors.

Teachers feel the need

“Teachers have been asking for resources to teach English learners more effectively,” says Karen Thompson, an assistant professor who is leading TEAMS. “This program will ensure that teachers have the best possible preparation for working with this group of students.”

Two cohorts of 40 teachers each will complete six online courses through the College of Education over 18 months, culminating in the ESOL endorsement. The grant also includes funding for a facilitator in each district who will foster connections to local community organizations engaged in cultural understanding. The facilitators and district participants will collaborate with these organizations to co-design education-focused events that deepen a teacher’s ability to engage the parents and wider community of emergent bilingual students.

“Research shows that involvement of parents has a huge impact on student success,” says Leija. “Therefore, we want parents to be an asset, and we want teachers to better understand how they can engage parents.”

If a class is studying a unit on plants, for example, and a teacher knows a student’s parents use plants in traditional healing, the teacher might invite the parents into the classroom to share how plants are used in that culture.

The excitement is palpable among teachers. “We had 27 of our teachers apply for eight slots, so we decided to fund two more teachers through our state transformation grants,” says Heather Huzefka, director of federal programs and student services at the Albany district. “When learning like this occurs, it doesn’t stay just with that teacher in that classroom — knowledge and experiences are shared with other teachers, which has the ripple effect of supporting even more students.”

After earning their ESOL endorsements through Oregon State, these teachers will be poised to make a huge difference for emergent bilingual students. Oregon’s student population may be changing, but Oregon State’s commitment to education for all never will.

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